Manufacturers, WHO insist on safety
Do not relax safety precautions after vaccination — Prof Akin Abayomi
By Chioma Obinna & Gabriel Olawale
The controversy over the alleged safety concerns of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine deepened on Monday as more countries suspended the roll-out of the jab.
This was as the manufacturers of the vaccine, the European regulators, and the World Health Organisation, WHO maintained that there was no evidence to show that the indicated health incidents were caused by the shot.
Already, no less than 12 countries including Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Thailand, and Bulgaria have suspended the use of the British-made vaccine after reports that some people who received the jab, developed blood clots after getting it.
France and Italy also announced plans to suspend the use of the vaccine as a cautionary measure while awaiting an analysis from the European Medicines Agency, EMA, which is expected to be finalised this week.
On Monday, Germany joined the list of countries to suspend the use of the vaccine as a precaution, after the detection of seven cases of blood clots in the brain, out of 1.6 million people that received the vaccine in the country.
AstraZeneca, WHO defend vaccine
But scientists and health officials have defended the jab even as nations across Europe have stopped using it.
Experts describe it as “reckless” the stoppage of the vaccine by the European countries.
AstraZeneca and its co-developer of the vaccine – Oxford University – have expressed confidence in the safety of the vaccine.
The WHO is encouraging countries to continue with the roll-out of the shot, saying that although its advisory panel was reviewing the related reports, available data do not suggest the blood clots were caused by the shot.
According to a WHO spokesperson, Christian Lindmeier: “As soon as WHO has gained a full understanding of these events, the findings and any unlikely changes to current recommendations will be immediately communicated to the public.
“As of today, there is no evidence that the incidents are caused by the vaccine and it is important that vaccination campaigns continue so that we can save lives and stem severe disease from the virus.”
On its own part, the drugmaker AstraZeneca insisted that there is no scientific evidence of any link between its vaccine and recent deaths in Europe from blood clots.
In a statement, the company said it had carefully reviewed the data on people who received doses across Europe.
It insisted that there was “no evidence of an increased risk” of blood clots in any age group or gender in any country.
Also, the European Medicines Agency remarked that “there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions.”
In response to the suspensions of its vaccine, AstraZeneca said it had carefully reviewed the data on 17 million people who received doses across Europe. It said there was “no evidence of an increased risk” of blood clots in any age group or gender in any country.
Vaccine hesitancy growing
The AstraZeneca-Oxford jab has been struggling to build confidence since the reported cases of deadly blood clots broke last week.
Although Nigeria and several other countries in Africa and beyond continued with their COVID-19 vaccine roll-out campaigns in spite of the development, the development is fuelling the rapidly growing scenario of vaccine hesitancy particularly in the low and middle-income countries where the COVAX Facility is planning to roll-out 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2022.
Vaccination increases immunity but…
On Friday, during the roll-out of 507,742 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford jab, in Lagos State, the Commissioner for Health/Deputy Incident Commander, COVID-19 Management, Prof. Akin Abayomi, warned that the arrival of the vaccine doesn’t suggest that people should relax in observing the Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions.
Abayomi, who spoke while receiving his first jab of the vaccine at the Infectious Diseases Isolation Centre in Yaba, Lagos, explained that vaccination does not mean that someone cannot contract the virus.
Abayomi who specialises in Internal Medicine, haematology, environmental health, and biobanking, said that the first jab of the vaccine helps to achieve 60 percent protection while the second jab increases the immunity to about 80 percent.
His words: “It is important to recognise that even after you have been vaccinated it does not guarantee that you cannot contract the virus but the chances of you developing the critical disease are significantly diminished once you have achieved this level of immunity.
“We are optimistic that the risk of not receiving the vaccine is higher than the chance of you catching the disease when you are not vaccinated.
“So we are encouraging Lagosians and all Nigerians by extension that they should see this as an opportunity for us to achieve what we describe as herd immunity.
“When we talk about herd immunity, we are talking about a collective capacity of a community to resist the transmission of an infection through that community.
“If we are able to achieve healthy immunity in Lagos and in other communities, then we stand a chance of reducing the virus from propagating itself.”
Third & fourth waves possible
“While I can tell you that we have been able to bring first and second waves under control, like many other parts of the world, the possibilities of third and fourth waves are ever-present.
“And one of the factors driving emergencies of new wave is the opening up of the economy, relaxation of our non-pharmaceutical intervention such as wearing of face mask, personal hygiene, socio distance, and the emergence of new variants which can quickly bypass your immunity and move from person to person fast and go into a more serious type of COVID-19 infection.”
How long effects of the vaccine last
Speaking further, Abayomi said so far, based on the evidence from the Phase 3 clinical trial, there is the suggestion that the immunity lasts from the point the vaccine was administered till seven months.
“It is only with time we can determine through the laboratory test and other forms of analysis how long you actually retain protective immunity as a result of the vaccine you received.
“ This can come in many forms through the laboratory to determine what kind of anti-body you produced, and how effective they will be and also if you had the vaccination and you developed the COVID, we will be measuring the number of people that had the vaccine and subsequently develop COVID-19 and what type of disease did they develop as a result of the impact of the vaccine.
“So if some people are still contacting the virus but are not developing serious complications, that to us is an achievement because the vaccine protects you from critical disease and your chance of dying is significantly reduced if not eliminated.”
On herd immunity, described as a collective resistance of a community to the vulnerability of a pathogen, Abayomi said it can either be achieved through natural immunity or received through the vaccine.
“The vaccine is a mimic of natural infection, what the vaccine does is to give the body opportunity to develop antibodies to that pathogen without actually contacting the illness.
“The vaccine helps the body to build immunity to fight infection. So you either acquire that immunity by factual of getting infection yourself and develop immunity or getting the vaccine so that your body will develop immunity.
If you have an infection before and receive the vaccine, it will boost your immunity by at least 100 times which means even a single dose of the vaccine will boost your immunity to a very high level.
It is important because we know that there are multiple variants circulating around the world, by having a strong immunity you have an advantage over the virus that you can immediately start to eliminate the virus from your body.
Lessons from COVID-19
Covid-19 taught us that we have a huge gap in infrastructure, we have a gap in our standard procedure, medical industry. Even before covid-19, we have the plan to develop the medical industry and innovation such that we can respond to this kind of situation in a more effective way in the future…certainly within that strategy it gives us the opportunity to develop our indigenous vaccine road map.
Confirmed vaccine doses received per State
Common side effects of COVID-19 vaccine: Pain at the injection site; mild grade fever; general feeling of unwellness, disturbed sleep patterns, nausea, chills, etc. All are mild and resolve within 24-48 hours.