Figueroa brushes aside Oxford vaccine talk

A concern that Jamaicans who have been vaccinated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca (COVID-19) vaccine may encounter difficulty accessing some services internationally is being challenged by expert physician Professor Peter Figueroa, who is insisting that the efficacy of the booster shot has been proven.

At least one media report has said some Canadians immunised with the vaccine have faced rejections when trying to access services open to people fully vaccinated in the United States, and has suggested that this might become a trend in other countries as well where this vaccine it remains unapproved.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US although the World Health Organization (WHO) has approved it for emergency use globally.

On Wednesday the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest online news site, reported that Canadians were barred from viewing Springsteen on Broadway because they were vaccinated, though fully, with Oxford-AstraZeneca.

But Professor Figueroa, who has been recognised at the World Health Assembly as a health leader for his substantial contribution to public health in Jamaica, the Caribbean, the Americas and the world, over the past four decades, criticised the decision.

“A vaccine expert or anyone who understands vaccines would say this is nonsense. Someone needs to educate the people at Broadway. If that report gets into the media then clearly it could help to sew doubt in the mind of someone who is considering should they be vaccinated or not, or which vaccine they should take” said the professor, who is a member of WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts Working Group on COVID-19 Vaccines.

On Thursday, director of family health services in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, Dr Melody Ennis announced that more than 220,000 Jamaicans had received at least one dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Of this figure, 51,908 are fully vaccinated.

Dr Ennis disclosed this during the virtual COVID Conversations press conference.

Professor Figueroa said from an expert’s point of view or someone properly informed about vaccines, “the decision by Broadway or anyone else is ridiculous”.

He told the Jamaica Observer in an interview on Friday that the evidence shows that a person fully vaccinated from Oxford-AstraZeneca is just as protected as if vaccinated by the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

“When people do efficacy trials, phase 3 trials, and you get the results they said the Pfizer was 90 per cent efficacious but the AstraZeneca was 70 per cent. [But] you can’t strictly compare or take those trials and then say, ‘Oh, this means that Pfizer is better than AstraZeneca,’ because there are different factors that you have to take into account when doing your assessment. All it tells you is that both vaccines are efficacious,” he said.

“If the population in which you test the vaccine is the general population — which is what they used for the Pfizer but they used a lot of health workers to test the AstraZeneca — health workers are more exposed to the virus, so they are more at risk. So it’s not surprising that the efficacy may be a little lower because it’s in a population that’s more at risk. Also, when you do the test it depends a little bit on the force of infection of COVID in the population at the time.

“So if the original coronavirus variant was circulating, as in the US when they did the Pfizer, the force of infection is not as great as when they did the study in the UK [United Kingdom] and South Africa when variants of the virus were circulating. So there are a number of different factors, and people don’t necessarily appreciate these subtleties,” he added.

More than 100 million people have received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine worldwide.

According to the professor, the British “have the best data” in terms of monitoring how the vaccines perform during the roll-out of the vaccination campaign in that country.

“The performance of both vaccines is quite similar. Both vaccines are very effective in preventing people from getting severe COVID and requiring hospitalisation. Deaths are extremely rare in any vaccinated people in the roll-out, so this is why I said the performance of the vaccines is very similar.

“The FDA is one regulatory agency. It’s considered a stringent regulatory agency in the sense that it is supposed to have high standards. The Brits also have a stringent regulatory agency. There are only a handful of stringent regulatory agencies and the World Health Organization would accept the assessment by any of the stringent regulatory agencies concerning any of the vaccines. AstraZeneca has not been reviewed by the FDA but it has been reviewed by the British regulatory agency as well as the European regulatory agency, both of which are equally stringent,” said Professor Figueroa.

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