•Austria suspends jabs with batch of AstraZeneca vaccine after one person died, another fell ill after taking shots
•‘Nigeria expecting next batch of COVID-19 vaccines in May, which may be sizable compared to initial delivery’
•Gambari, Marwa, Mustapha, ministers, PTF members, journalists receive first doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to further
demonstrate its safety, efficacy
•PTF begins deployment of vaccines to states today
Concerns over safety of COVID-19 vaccines surged yesterday when Austria reportedly suspended vaccinations with a batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccine as a precaution following the death of one person and the illness of another after the shots.
The Federal Office for Safety in Health Care (BASG) said a 49-year-old woman died as a result of severe coagulation disorders. It also confirmed another 35-year-old woman developed a pulmonary embolism and is now recovering.
BASG, however, said: “Currently there is no evidence of a causal relationship with the vaccination.”Swiss newspaper Niederoesterreichische Nachrichten as well as broadcaster ORF and the APA news agency reported that the women were both nurses who worked at the Zwettl clinic.
BASG said blood clotting was not among the known side effects of the vaccine and confirmed it was pursuing its investigation vigorously to completely rule out any possible link.
It noted the vaccine had been approved by the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organisation (WHO) based on a global clinical programme involving 23,000 participants.
This is coming two months after South Africa rejected about 1.5 million doses of the same vaccine after evidence emerged that the vaccine did not protect clinical-trial participants from mild or moderate illness caused by the more contagious virus variant that was first seen in the country.
Apart from the concerns raised in Austria and South Africa, preliminary results from a trial of the vaccines are not clear and did not reflect data from older people, the New York Times reported.
Nigeria commenced vaccination with the Oxford vaccines last Friday with Cyprian Ngong, a medical doctor becoming the first person to receive a jab in Nigeria. The rollout started with healthcare workers who are often at the risk of exposure to infections being the first responders to patients.
Furthermore, concerns about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine have also hampered its rollout in Italy, with some refusing to have the jab as they believe the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines offer more protection.
A public health physician and one of the team leaders of Lagos COVID-19 containment efforts, Prof. Akin Osibogun, told The Guardian yesterday: “The question to ask is how many Austrians have been vaccinated to record the single ‘vaccine-related’ death? In the absence of vaccination, how many Austrians are likely to die from COVID19? If we calculate the death rate for each of the two groups, the option with the lower death rate is the preferred option! If the death rate from the vaccine is far lower than the death rate from the COVID-19 virus, it would not be necessary to suspend vaccination.”
A virologist and vaccinologist and leader of COVID-19 vaccine task team of the African Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative, Dr. Simon Agwale, told The Guardian that the suspension of AstraZeneca’s one batch of COVID-19 vaccine by Austria is a precautionary step before the outcome of ongoing investigation.
“There are usually multiple layers of oversight and safeguards in vaccine development to assure the safety and the protection of patients. Each vaccine batch goes through rigorous safety testing before release, so let’s wait for the outcome of the investigation, which will determine whether these cases are related to the vaccine.”
Agwale added: “The AstraZeneca vaccine has already been given to millions of people and currently registered in more than 50 countries, so I won’t be concerned about its use in Nigeria. Moreover, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) will also collect local safety data to support its widespread use in the country.”
A public health physician and Executive Secretary, Enugu State Agency for the Control of AIDS (ENSACA), Dr. Chinedu Arthur Idoko, told The Guardian: “The implication is, there need to be a follow up and some sort of observation of people who receive the vaccine to forestall life threatening situations following possible untoward effects of the vaccine.”
Idoko said it is important to note that there is always some element of possible reactions/side effects to drugs and even vaccines when taken.“However it is usually in the very smaller percentage and would not outrightly cause abandoning the entire vaccination process. It however calls for a stricter follow up, as every single life matters,” he said.
Chairman, Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, said Monday at a media briefing yesterday in Abuja said that he was leading all members of the PTF to receive the first doses of the vaccine as a further demonstration of the safety and efficacy.
“Let me underscore at this point that in this war, we are all involved in this because nobody is safe until everybody is safe. Our ultimate objective is to vaccinate about 70 per cent of our population which is about 200 million, between year 2021 and 2022,” he said.
Reacting to apathy and hesitancy over COVID-19 vaccines, Mustapha said: “Nigerians should never allow vaccine hesitancy propagated through conspiracy theories sway you from the path of doing the right thing. Taking the vaccines will protect you, your loved ones and the entire community. I similarly wish to warn against patronizing unauthorized vaccines peddlers. The only recognised safe and efficacious vaccines are those coming through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA). We should remain vigilant.”
Mustapha, Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire and his Information and Culture counterpart, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, among other members of the task force yesterday received their first dose of Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.
Others were the Minister of Environment, Muhammad Mahmood; Minister of State for Health, Olorunnimbe Mamora; Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeoma, and the National Incident Manager, PTF, Mukhtar Muhammad, among others.
Also, four journalists who are considered part of the critical front-liners in the fight against the virus received the vaccine in a representative manner. They were Friday Okoregbe, Channels Television; Hassan Umar Faruk, Liberty Television; Nancy Oyediya Urum, Africa Independent Television (AIT); and Rahila Lassa, Voice of Nigeria (VON).
The vaccines were administered by Obuba Horsefall, the supervising nurse, Adaga Lucy and Obodia Ogonna, after which each of them was issued a vaccination card showing they have received the first dose of the vaccine and when they will receive the second dose.
This is coming after President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Prof Ibrahim Gambari yesterday received the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. The public vaccination, officials say, is to reassure Nigerians and douse skepticisms about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.
Gambari was given the jab after e-registration and filling of their vaccination card. He sat for 15 minutes as prescribed by the vaccination routine. The Chief of Staff was thereafter presented with vaccination card by the Chief Medical Director of the State House Medical Centre, Dr Husain Munir.
The Chairman/CEO of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Gen. Mohammed Buba Marwa (rtd), Permanent Secretary of the State House, Tijjani Umar, and Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, also received jabs and were all consequently handed vaccination cards.
In his remarks, Gambari said the vaccination was painless and that he followed the footsteps of President Buhari, who demonstrated leadership alongside his deputy to receive the jabs on Saturday. He advised eligible Nigerians to take the vaccines, assuring that it is safe.
The government had on Saturday hinted that getting COVID-19 vaccination could become a requirement for all international passengers as the fight against the killer infection continues to gain steam.
Meanwhile, the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 has made adequate provisions to deploy the vaccines to all states and vaccination sites where people will be vaccinated according to set priorities beginning with the frontline health workers and other support staff.
The state launch of the vaccination for frontline health workers will begin today at the state treatment centres while many governors have agreed to flag off vaccination tomorrow, Wednesday, just as the roll out for the general public will commence from March 12, barring any change.
Executive Director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, said government is working with CACOVID to ensure that the vaccines are airlifted to the states in time for the roll out.
He noted that it is expected that the states will roll out vaccination only when local governments have met the minimum criteria for successful conduct of the campaign, such as training, cold chain status, proposition of data tools, availability of transport logistics for healthcare workers, and adequate security for vaccines.