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Another elderly person dies due to Covid-19; MOH answers vaccine questions

The Ministry of Health reported that an elderly woman with co-morbidities has died due to Covid-19. This fatality brings the death toll to 133.

Meanwhile, the number of new confirmed cases globally also continues to rise. In the health ministry’s virtual media conference, epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds reported there were more than 94 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and more than two million deaths worldwide.

Photo: Medical staff wheel away a Covid-19 patient.

Locally, new cases continue to trend upwards. Today, the ministry reported 15 new cases, which bring the total number of infections since March 2020 to 7,430.

With the virus spreading around the world unabated, many are looking to the new Covid-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic. According to Dr Erica Wheeler of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Trinidad and Tobago expects to receive the vaccine through the Covax facility by March 2021.

She, chief medical officer (CMO) Dr Roshan Parasram and Dr Hinds answered several common questions about the vaccine:

What are the side effects of the Covid-19 Vaccine?

Speaking about the vaccine from Pfizer/BioNtech virus the CMO said: “[…] the most common side effects would be pain at the injection site [and] possibly a feeling of lethargy for a day or two, which is in keeping with other types of vaccines that would be given for many years … Persons with severe allergies should not take this vaccine in the first instance, therefore it is a contraindication.”

He added: “People who would have had allergic reactions to the point that you have severe manifestations. For example, persons that have severe reactions to seafood—you have rashes all over your body, you have difficulty breathing. So, people who are prone to severe allergic reactions even to food products, we wouldn’t recommend it at this time… Your physician determines if you can or cannot take a vaccine.”

Photo: Covid-19 vaccine (by Artem Podrez from Pexels)

Can you get infected even after getting the vaccine?

According to Dr Hinds, yes. The vaccine does not prevent you from becoming infected, but it could prevent you from getting sick. Hinds said: “You may be infected with the virus, but your immune system is fighting the virus well and you aren’t having symptoms, and that’s because the vaccine has primed your immune system so that you can fight off the infection.”

Can you pass the virus on to others after getting the vaccine?

Dr Wheeler: “We believe, so far from the data, that it is still possible to transmit the virus even though you yourself don’t have the disease. What is critically important, until we reach the stage of herd immunity in any population, is to continue to observe all public health measures, meaning you have to continue to wear your mask, keep your physical distance, wash your hands. All of those things?”

Dr Hinds added that getting the vaccine did not cause you to become infected. “It’s not that you shed the virus without being infected or that the vaccine makes you shed the virus,” he said.

Who among the elderly would be first in line for the vaccine?

The ministry has said that along with frontline workers, the elderly would be among the first to be vaccinated. The CMO said that everyone eligible for the vaccine because of their age would receive one, but age together with health conditions could put someone slightly ahead to receive the vaccine.

“What we’re using in Trinidad and Tobago is 60 years and over as a cutoff for age. But you may be on two lists: you may be 60 years or over or you be on that list by virtue of your status in terms of NCDs [non-comunicable diseases].”

Photo: Bottles of Covid-19 vaccine.

How long does immunity last with the Covid-19 vaccine?

It’s too soon to tell. According to the the CMO: “We don’t know simply because the virus has only been with us a certain amount of time and, of course, vaccinations have only just begun. So, we have to give it some time before we can tell how long immunity is going to last.”

Moderna announced las Monday that its vaccine should provide at least one year of immunity.

What happens if immunity runs out for the first group of vaccinated people before the rest of the population gets the vaccine?

The CMO suggested that the first group who got the vaccine would have to be revaccinated if their immunity ran out before enough of the rest of the population were immunised.

He said: “We are hoping to get through at least the entire population that is earmarked to be vaccinated before we have to go back to that first 20%. But, of course, as the months progress and we see what the immunity is for various vaccines, how long it will last, only then we can make that determination.”

Photo: Members of the public are asked to sanitise regularly to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Can private institutions import and distribute the vaccine?

Parsram said that the pharmaceutical companies had agents in the country that could sell to private institutions.

“There’s nothing stopping a company from bringing a vaccine into a country once it’s registered with the food and drug division. So if it is registered, then, of course, it can be imported. But we are looking, at least in the first phase, because it is a vaccine that is under emergency use authorisation, that we use it in the public sector in the first instance. Then we’ll see how it is going by way of utilisation, adverse reaction profile, and then, of course, later on down the line, we can look at public-private partnerships as need be.”

Dr Wheeler added that it was not uncommon to have an emergency use listing at least in the first year of a new vaccine.

Can the vaccines protect against the new strains of the virus found in the UK and South Africa?

Dr Wheeler said there was no evidence so far that the current vaccines were not effective on the new strains of the virus. She said that the vaccine manufacturers were continuing to do work to ensure their vaccines are effective against the new strains. Pfizer, she said, was seeing good early results against both the UK and South African strains.

About Fayola Bostic

Fayola Bostic is a writer and copyeditor. She is the founder of Write Energy Ltd, which creates content for technical industry brands. Fayola is a former engineer who has been writing professionally for more than a decade.

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