South Africa has suspended use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 after it was shown to be less effective against the Sars-Cov-2 variant dominant in that country. Some countries in Europe have also decided to restrict the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to questions over its efficacy in older populations.
France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain and Poland only recommend it for people under 65. Italy and Belgium have approved the vaccine for use in people under 55, while Switzerland has not approved it for any age group.
But will these concerns affect Trinidad and Tobago’s rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, scheduled to begin in March? Dr Avery Hinds, technical director at the epidemiology division of the Ministry of Health says no.
“The decisions of other countries don’t actually affect our decision with respect to which target groups we will utilise because the decisions aren’t based on an absence of safety or an absence of efficacy data [for the AstraZeneca vaccine],” he said. “Those countries just wanted to see a little more before they undertook their particular response.”
He said that the health ministry was guided by technical advice from the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and that the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for rollout.
Other countries that will also be using the AstraZeneca vaccine include the UK, Mexico, India and Argentina.
“While the data may be what they [European countries] consider smaller numbers, at this point in time, it still has demonstrated itself to be safe and effective across the age groups in which it has been trialled. So, there isn’t any reason not to do the rollout with the target groups we have identified,” Hinds added.
The target groups identified to get the vaccine first include the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions.
As for evidence that the vaccine may not be as effective against the South African variant of Sars-Cov-2, Hinds said that controlled repatriation exercises were protecting T&T from importing other worrisome variants of the virus. He noted that just one contained case of the UK variant had so far been detected.
“So the issue of variants and efficacy, in our population, does not arise,” he said.
The principal medical officer, institutions at the Ministry of Health, Dr Maryam Abdool Richards, agreed that new variants were a low risk because of the government’s ‘closed-border policy’.
“This policy and the stringent quarantine processes for returning nationals by the Ministry of Health and the controlled entry of these persons really is a significant weapon in the war against the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.
The health ministry reported no new cases of Covid-19 today. The total number of confirmed positive cases since March 2020 is 7,616.
With no new deaths reported, the total number of fatalities from the virus is 135.
There are now 27 people in hospital, 295 in state quarantine facilities and 167 in self-isolation.