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Astrazeneca exonerated; Step up immunisation

Astrazeneca exonerated; Step up immunisation

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ONE CAN ONLY WELCOME the news over the past week, from three significant sources that the allegations about the lack of safety of the Astrazeneca vaccine, used here among many countries the world over, and already administered to millions of people, are without basis.

Last week both the European Medical Association (EMA) and the United Kingdom Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the regulatory health bodies in the European Union and the UK respectively, gave the vaccine the all-clear. This has been followed by the release of the results of trials in the USA where the vaccine has not yet been officially cleared for mass use.

The US trial was particularly eagerly awaited given the significance of the US market and the negative influence that a bad report could have on the global use of the vaccine. The US trials carried out on 32,000 volunteers, not only in the US but in Chile and Peru as well, concluded that the Astrazeneca vaccine is both “safe and effective”, in terms of stopping the spread of COVID 19 and preventing people from getting ill, while there were no safety issues regarding blood clots.

Last week, major European countries which had paused in their immunisation campaign with Astrazeneca gave the allclear for the resumption after the EMA found that there was “no evidence” of blood clotting related to the vaccine. The agency said that people can have confidence in the vaccine and that they should get immunised.

Amazingly, though tens of millions of people have already been given at least one shot of the vaccine, in the UK only 5 cases out of 11 million were reported for investigation while the EMA said it had examined 13 reports. Yet the allegations seemed to have spurred a global campaign questioning the safety of the Astrazeneca vaccine.

In our own country where about 10,000 persons have already received an Astrazeneca “jab”, the concerns raised in Europe and the USA were used to fuel a negative campaign which seemed to cause a slackening-off in the immunisation campaign. It became part of a smear campaign that even included such ridiculous claims that the vaccine contained a chip.

Some persons while claiming that they were not against immunisation, claimed that they did not want the Astrazeneca vaccine and were actually waiting for the Russian Sputnik or a Cuban vaccine. Could you imagine Vincentians rejecting a vaccine from the West and instead expressing a preference for vaccines from Russia or Cuba? What would have been the reaction if the government had refused the Astrazeneca and told us to wait for vaccines from Russia and Cuba?

The exoneration of the Astrazeneca is also a vindication of both science as well as of our health officials who never succumbed to the fear factor and publicly expressed confidence in the vaccine used. Dr Jerrol Thompson is on record of even expressing confidence that the vaccine would be cleared. He has been proven right.

This should give impetus to the immunisation campaign and boost our faith in the leadership of our health officials. We must overcome sensationalism, rumours and mischief and put our full weight behind our health officials not only in the immunisation campaign but also in the other measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.