The Trinidad Express has not backed down from its controversial investigative piece into the efficacy of vaccines being administered locally, despite criticism from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the laboratory used to ‘test’ the protection offered by vaccines.
Yesterday, in a story titled ‘Putting vaccines to the test’, the Sunday Express claimed that ‘the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine does not seem to provide a high level of immunity protection against the Covid-19 virus’.
The story, written by Anna Ramdass, was based on tests of two persons vaccinated with AstraZeneca and two with Sinopharm done at the St Augustine Medical Laboratory Ltd. It also included quotes from three anonymous doctors.
None of the quotes attributed to the doctors conclusively supported the Express conclusion, though. And, within hours, the laboratory emphatically distanced itself from the report.
“The St Augustine Medical Laboratory Ltd (STAML) wishes to advise the public that they are in no way affiliated with any media house or media personnel and that opinions made by same in no way reflect the views of STAML,” stated the lab, in a media release. “Further, STAML was never engaged by any media house or media personnel to participate in any analysis for the purpose of assessing the reliability of any vaccine, and statements alluding to same are wholly untrue and reckless.
“It should be noted that antibody values are NOT in any way representative of antibody status in a patient and attempts to create this relationship are based on no real scientific data and research and are designed to create unnecessary panic.
“Scientific analysis and opinions should be left for professionals and those qualified to do so and must be based on facts.”
In an Express response to the STAML release,Ramdass stated:
‘The Express did not commission St Augustine Medical Laboratory (STAML) to conduct any scientific analysis. This lab was chosen because it is validated by the Ministry of Health and offers the antibody tests.
‘The lab’s management was informed of the Sunday Express report one day prior and no objections were expressed.’
Neither Ramdass nor Express editor-in-chief Omatie Lyder addressed the criticism of their ‘research’ or the potential implications of it.
PAHO also noted that the Sinopharm vaccine was ‘approved by the World Health Organization’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL) process after rigorous evaluation by independent experts’ with ‘an efficacy rate of 79% against symptomatic disease and 79% against hospitalisation’.
At present, Sinopharm is accepted in 69 countries worldwide, include the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.
“Minimal and extremely rare adverse events have been reported since the vaccine’s introduction in the general population,” stated a PAHO media statement. “[…] Millions of people have been fully protected by the Sinopharm vaccine around the world and to date, there is no data to suggest that the Sinopharm vaccine is ineffective against Covid-19.”
PAHO further suggested that the WHO has been transparent regarding vaccine efficacy.
“In October 2021, WHO issued a recommendation that persons aged 60 or older who received two doses of Sinopharm receive a third dose of any EUL-approved vaccine, since the initial immune response is not deemed sufficient,” stated PAHO. “Regarding the Sinopharm’s efficacy against variants, available data show that Sinopharm maintains strong protection against the Alpha and Beta variants. There are no studies that test the effectiveness of Sinopharm against Delta.
“At this time, there are very limited data on the effectiveness of any Covid-19 vaccine against the Omicron variant. PAHO/WHO reassures the public that all EUL-approved vaccines are proven to be effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalisation and death.”
The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago was far more blunt in its response to the Express report.
“The conclusions of the news report are based on a crude and amateurish ‘study’ with only four samples, and thus completely a farce,” the Embassy’s statement ran. “[…] This most irresponsible media report has blatantly ignored plenty of the world-recognised scientific researches, distorted the facts, violated journalism ethics, created public panic and meant to undermine the resolve and actions of the Trinidad and Tobago people in their brave battle against this pandemic at this critical moment.
“We deeply deplore and firmly oppose this media report, urge relevant parties to immediately rectify its wrong doing, take concrete measures to undo the damage, and not to move further down the wrong path…”
Dr Rowley issued two statements in reference to the Express article.
“This must be the worst piece of irresponsible journalism I have ever seen,” wrote Rowley, who took the Sinopharm vaccine in July. “In a pandemic, where thousands of doctors and many international agencies and hundreds of thousands of newspapers and other media entities are present and reporting, the Express has made the discovery as published to undermine a vaccine which might very well be a victim of geopolitics.
“Where is the science here? Who are the people responsible for this data set being published in this way?
“It’s not only embarrassing it is downright destructive and worrisome. Who will be fired here? To attempt to undermine a nation’s vaccination program in a pandemic is nothing short of criminal!”
An hour later, the Prime Minister lamented the timing of the Express report—a day after the government’s push to vaccinate the public sector by mid-January 2022—as well as the media house’s editorial.
“To think that such an irresponsible barrier was constructed on the very day that the newspapers were reporting a major shift in Government policy to encourage the use of the authorised vaccines of ALL description is beyond appalling,” continued Rowley. “It doesn’t stand alone. Instead of encouraging the hesitant population to step up in our only available defence and vaccinate, the Express writes an editorial called ‘Too little too late’.
“What is their alternative and exactly when was the early time to have stepped up before vaccine acceptance was given ample time to work? This was the same tone and tenor that was carried on with during the period when vaccines were not available to countries like ours because the big rich countries had been hoarding it all for their people.
“That was when they joined the usual suspects in Trinidad and Tobago, to pretend that vaccines could have been had if the Government had done this or that or if the private sector was given the job to get vaccines.
“Even as we, at Caricom—led by Trinidad and Tobago—were fighting on the world stage to get a supply from those who controlled the world supply, we could not have counted on these nationals to stand in support of that effort.
“It was more attractive to them to spew the theories that said that ‘the government allowed Covid to come into the country, the Government and the health care staff are killing people in the hospitals, the Government didn’t move fast enough to grab vaccines, and the Prime Minister is a bully who keeps annoying people with stern warnings about the dangers and inevitability of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is ravaging the whole world’.
“Now this! I am shocked and worried about our situation. The Express needs to come out and own this error and appeal to the vulnerable population to not make their decision on vaccination on the basis of this dangerous article.”
Thus far, the Express’ only response to the furore is a note that the Prime Minister called its story ‘criminal’, along with an obscure ‘explanation’ of the role played by the St Augustine Medical Laboratory in its report.