By Chioma Obinna
The suspension of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines in some countries following reports of cases of blood clots and other side effects may increase hesitancy to accept a COVID-19 vaccine.
Already, there are also fears that the development could erode public trust in the vaccines and hamper efforts to achieve herd immunity.
Meanwhile, with the European Medicines Agency, EMA, investigation showing the vaccine was safe, last Thursday, medical experts in Nigeria say there was no need to discontinue the vaccination.
According to them, only vaccines can help the country achieve herd immunity.
A host of European countries had put all vaccinations with Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on hold.
These countries include Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Norway and Ireland.
Others, such as DRC Congo, Estonia and Austria, also suspended vaccinations.
Most of the countries claimed their action was due to cases of blood-clotting conditions among those who had received the vaccine.
But the Oxford/AstraZeneca, in a statement, stated that after a careful review of data from the 17 million people vaccinated in the E.U. and U.K. with its shot, there was no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or thrombocytopenia, in any defined age group, gender and batch or in any particular country.
They noted that among the millions vaccinated in the E.U. and U.K., just 15 have developed DVT or blood clots in the blood vessels, and 22 have developed clots in the lungs that originated elsewhere and travelled to pulmonary arteries.
The manufacturers insisted that these are insignificant compared to the number of cases expected to occur naturally in that population.
Confirming their argument, EMA concluded it was safe and effective.
The EMA had reviewed the jab after 13 EU states suspended use of the vaccine over fears of a link to blood clots. According to them, the jab was not associated with a higher risk of clots. Following this development, the EU’s leading states are to restart their roll-out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.
Germany, France, Italy and Spain said they would resume using the jab while Sweden said it needed a few days to decide.
Speaking to Sunday Vanguard, the National President of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, Prof James Damen, said the Nigerian government should go ahead with the vaccination exercise as there is no scientific evidence to disapprove its usage.
“I believe Nigeria should continue with the AstraZeneca vaccine because there is not yet any scientific basis for us to discontinue its usage”, Damen said.
“The problem encountered by some countries was associated with a particular batch which is different with the one we are using.”
Expressing concerns that there might be some level of vaccine hesitancy amongst the Nigerian populace, he said it is important for relevant government agencies to strategically engage professional healthcare associations continually to encourage uptake of vaccines by citizens.
The professor, who pointed out that vaccine was produced to save lives and not dangerous, added that although it was true that some persons had been complaining of side effects, the percentage was insignificant.
“Again, we should know that for every injectable vaccine, there is sometimes what we call Adverse Effects Following Immunization, AEFI; that of Covid-19 vaccine is not different, but, as always, there are trained health personnel administering the vaccine and they know how to manage any reported AEFI.
“I might not have much to say about other countries, but for Nigeria, I will encourage relevant government agencies and partners to continue to provide direction and collaboration with all stakeholders to ensure that more Nigerians are vaccinated with the right vaccine”, he said.
“My recommendation is that we should continue to have a multi-sectoral approach which the PTF has been doing for a long time; again we should continually dialogue with stakeholders and citizens to still observe the NPIs. It is our collective duty to contain the spread of this virus, let us not leave it for any singular person.”
He called on the Federal Government to set up a surveillance team to monitor those who have received the vaccines for some time by conducting a baseline of prospective recipients, administer the vaccines and follow them up.
“I strongly believe that we can develop our infrastructure and facilities because we have experienced Medical Laboratory Scientists who can produce these vaccines in the country. Let’s believe in our professionals.”
In his submission, a Public Health Analyst, Dr Casmier Ifeanyi, who noted that while it was not enough to stop vaccination based on reports of adverse effects from other countries of the world, said there was a need for strict monitoring of Nigerians who have received the vaccines.
Ifeanyi said the National Agency for Food Administration and Control, NAFDAC, Pharmacovigilance Unit should be taken to task on reports of adverse reaction to the vaccine.
The renowned Medical Laboratory Scientist said the fact that there have been adverse reactions in some countries using the vaccine may not occur in Nigeria.
“We do know that this is a prophylactic vaccine and we also do know that this prophylactic vaccine being rolled out like every other vaccine will have some varying degrees of adverse reactions even in terms of severity”, he stated. “Basically, the judgment to discontinue use should be based after carrying out a risk analysis.
“In this case of AstraZeneca vaccine, a lot of scientific opinions including that of WHO favoured continuing use of the vaccine because the benefit outweighed the risks.
“However, it is always better to err on the side of caution. Lagos State government has already vaccinated well over 12,000 residents; we should have experiences of this population.
“It may not be an exact number of our population but it is a reasonable sample size for us to draw an inference and make a scientific decision.
“At this point, the Pharmacovigilance Unit of NAFDAC should tell Nigerians, with a little above 20,000 vaccinated so far, the varying degree of adverse reaction. Let us know if we have them or not.
“By and large, the use of vaccine comes with some level of risk and, based on all available scientific evidence, the benefits of the use of AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risk reported so far.
“What we need to do is not just to say continue with the vaccine but it may be necessary to check other components of the vaccine to find out if there are elements or other components of the vaccines that people are reacting to.”
He appealed Nigerians who have taken the vaccines to share their experiences openly.
“I would want the Nigeria government to look inward, and devote more resources to one of the vaccine candidates from Africa as an alternative as well as support it through clinical trial”, Ifeanyi said.
He added that there was no need to stop vaccination because of the adverse reaction coming from the western world.