T&T goes ahead with AstraZeneca vaccine rollout

Even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) continues to investigate if recent blood clotting incidents in patients from certain countries in the European Union (EU) was a direct cause of the AstraZeneca vaccine, local health officials have assured T&T can go ahead with rolling out this vaccine to its population.

Commenting on concerns after few countries in the EU suspended the administration of this particular vaccine, epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds and Medical Chief of Staff at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex Dr Joanne Paul said there were still strong recommendations from experts relating to the protection that this vaccine can provide.

Speaking during the Ministry of Health’s briefing on Saturday, Paul said close to 50 million people in the world had already received the AstraZeneca vaccine with no issues.

Hinds, said, meanwhile an investigation is underway and the WHO is currently evaluating the situation. He said until the evaluation is complete and indicates otherwise, the vaccine is still safe to administer and T&T will continue its vaccine roll-out plan as scheduled.

A release from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) later said the precautionary measure by some EU countries to suspend their AstraZeneca vaccination campaign as a result of reports of rare blood coagulation disorders in people who had received the vaccine, had been “done as a precautionary measure while a full investigation is conducted into the reports.”

The release stated, “At present, it cannot be determined whether there is a link between the vaccine and the disorders.”

CARPHA advised that adverse reactions that happen following immunisation with any vaccine need to be fully investigated to rule out various factors such as concomitant illnesses, progression of a disease, and batch assessment before a final decision is made by the health authorities.

They added, “It must be noted that the vaccine being used in the Caribbean is not the same version or batch as the one in Europe.”

The WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS) systematically reviews any vaccine safety signals and concerns related to COVID-19 vaccine safety. This committee is said to be carefully assessing the current reports on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

CARPHA said, “As soon as WHO has gained a full understanding of these events, the findings and any changes to current recommendations will be immediately communicated to regional and international public health partners which includes CARPHA.”

The WHO said vaccination against COVID-19 will not reduce deaths from other causes. As of March 9, over 268 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered since the start of the pandemic based on data reported to WHO by national governments.

No deaths have been caused by COVID-19 vaccines to date.

The release included a further assurance to, “Member States that CARPHA’s Caribbean Regulatory System (CRS) applies its reliance procedure to verify vaccines with emergency use authorisation granted by stringent regulatory authorities of reference.”

CARPHA is encouraging people who have been vaccinated to report adverse events that occur after vaccination to local health authorities.

Regarding the appearance of variants, CARPHA said this was part of the normal cycle of viral infection and replication and should not be considered an unusual process.

Because the variants appear more frequently as more subjects become infected, people have been urged to maintain measures that prevent the occurrence of new infections such as the use of face masks, washing hands, social distancing, and avoiding crowds.

CARPHA reaffirmed its commitment to providing technical support and advice and continues to conduct tests for suspected COVID-19 cases for all CARPHA Member States (CMS) routinely as requested.

In collaboration with the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus, CARPHA started conducting whole genome sequencing for Caricom countries in December 2020. So far, CARPHA has detected cases of the UK variant in several member states. No cases of the Brazil or South Africa variant have been detected.