Government reacts to ‘blood clot and AstraZeneca’ findings by continuing vaccination rollout
BY ALFRED PAGEPITU
Government will continue with its AstraZeneca vaccination rollout programme despite a recent finding linking the vaccine with blood clots.
On Thursday last week, the European Medicine Agency (EMA), a medical arm of the EU, published in its website that “unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects of Vaxzevria (formerly COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca)”.
Having said this, EMA also echoes the usual advice that vaccinations must continue since the “overall benefits of the vaccine in preventing covid-19 outweigh the risks of side effects”.
While many countries have reacted to this EMA finding by altering their AstraZeneca vaccination programmes, Solomon Islands has chosen to trudge on.
In the UK under-30s are being offered alternative jabs to AstraZeneca, Australia is applying alternative jabs for under-50s, similarly France and Belgium are offering alternative jabs for under-55s even those who have taken their first AstraZeneca shot, Italy and Spain have restricted AstraZeneca dosage to over-60s.
Sadly, Solomon Islands does not have any alternative available. Last night’s newly arrived Sinopharm, according to government, will be stored until given the greenlight by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for use.
Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services (MHMS) Pauline McNeil, in a talkback show yesterday said that “the report does not say, however that will stop the roll out of the vaccine, but for the health workers and technical expects to be aware of these linkages”.
Mrs McNeil said the Ministry of health has technical working group (TWG) which reviews such issues, so the decision of TWG last week, they decided that the roll of the AstraZeneca vaccines will continue to be implemented and rolled out.
“This because the benefits outweigh the risk of the vaccination, so the decision of the ministry through the technical working group is to continue the roll out of the vaccine,” she said.
Dr Yogesh Choudri, technical advisor to the ministry of health, reinforces this, saying the EMA findings did not confirm AstraZeneca as a cause for the blood clots.
“Having a blood clot disorder is not uncommon with other vaccines we have seen with Moderna and Pfizer covid-19 vaccine, but this typical presentation that we have seen is reported because it’s quite possible that we are diagnosing it more that this has been reported. However there is a possible link issued but that is not a possible cause.”
He said the health ministry’s technical group continues to closely monitor the situation and work closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other authorities.
AstraZeneca is the only WHO-approved vaccine available for Solomon Islands, with a current 24-000 dose roll-out being piloted.
Rollout was launched on April 24 with quite a number of leaders, including prime minister Manasseh Sogavare taking jabs to show confidence in the vaccine. However, on the overall, this show failed to convince many.
Three days into the rollout programme and government was forced to admit that the turnout for the first phase, which involved 7,000 doses to be administered in Honiara, was very low – the number just shy of 600.
A hard directive from PM Sogavare the following week, coupled with a threat from the Attorney General for frontliners to resign if they refused the jab, seemed to do the trick.
The numbers of frontliners turning up for jab jumped.
This has brought the numbers of the inoculated to 3,044, according to PS McNeil, in her talkback show remarks yesterday. But, still, this figure remains below the halfway mark with rollout entering its fourth week.
Solomon Islands recently received 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from the WHO-led COVAX scheme. Seven thousand of this was allocated to the first phase, which involved jabbing frontliners in Honiara.
Second phase, which gets the bulk (17,000 doses), would be implemented in the border communities following the Honiara piloting.
So far, according to McNeil, border communities are embracing the idea of getting vaccinated in support of the government’s drive against covid-19.
A huge awareness programme is currently on in the border communities.
Border communities include Shortland Islands, Malaita Outer Islands and parts of Choiseul province. These regions have been classified as high risk due to their proximity to the border with PNG, our covid-stricken neighbour.