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Jamaica remains committed to AstraZeneca vaccine


Jamaica will continue to administer AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, notwithstanding reports out of some other countries of serious adverse effects in people who have received the booster.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton stated the island’s resolve to carry on administering the vaccine during his weekly COVID Conversations streamed live to the country Thursday evening.

The Government’s position was bolstered yesterday morning by news out of Europe that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has determined that severe allergies should be added to the possible side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine after likely links were found to a number of cases in Britain.

The development came a day after the EMA, the European Union’s drug regulator, said it was investigating a separate issue of blood clots that prompted Denmark to suspend use of the vaccine, but said it remained safe to use.

The Amsterdam-based EMA said it had “recommended an update to the product information to include anaphylaxis and hypersensitivity (allergic reactions) as side effects”.

“The update is based on a review of 41 reports of possible anaphylaxis seen among around five million vaccinations in the United Kingdom,” it said in the highlights of the EMA committee that assesses the risk of medications.

“After careful review of the data, [the committee] considered that a link to the vaccine was likely in at least some of these cases.”

The EMA said, however, that anaphylaxis, or what it called “severe allergic reactions”, was already what it called a “known side effect that may occur, very rarely, with vaccines”.

The AstraZeneca vaccine’s product information already said that people should be kept under “close observation for at least 15 minutes” after getting the jab in case of allergic reactions.

Although health authorities in Denmark have said there is no evidence at this point that the vaccine caused the clots, Norway has also announced suspension of the use of the vaccine as a precaution.

Jamaica received 50,000 doses of the vaccine from India on Monday, and the health ministry has, since Wednesday, embarked on the roll-out of the doses to key populations.

On Thursday evening, Dr Tufton stated: “Our position is that we remain committed to the vaccine and the efficacy of the vaccine as outlined by experts and the WHO (World Health Organization). The WHO’s position remains, and the vaccine has been administered to millions of persons so far around the world, and we have not had incidents that could change that expert view that it is an effective and safe vaccine.”

He said the ministry would track the status of people who receive the vaccine.

Meanwhile, Dr Tufton hailed the first day of the vaccine roll-out a success, noting that 83 per cent (2,718 of 3,280 people) of the target for Wednesday had been met.

“It’s a commendable achievement in that this is the start of a national process,” he said, adding that the number is expected to go up to 89 per cent when data becomes available for the vaccines administered by the Jamaica Defence Force.

Dr Melody Ennis, director of family health and clinical lead on the vaccination programme, said the ministry had opted to give all 50,000 doses as the first dose, as there would be sufficient time to procure the next batch of AstraZeneca vaccines to administer the second dose.

“Once we are utilising the AstraZeneca vaccine it matters not where we get it from, therefore we can administer should we get AstraZeneca from a different source. We have also altered the spacing of persons being vaccinated, because the efficacy of the vaccine actually starts to improve if we wait eight to 12 weeks. So based on the schedule of the arrival of vaccines in country we are pretty confident that we can deliver the 50,000 doses and we will have vaccines at the end of 10 to 12 weeks to begin administering the second dose,” she explained.

The plan is to vaccinate just over 17,000 people in the next seven days.

The country is expected to receive 14,400 additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility on Monday, March 15. This will be the first instalment of a total of 124,800 doses negotiated through the mechanism.

The remaining doses are expected by May. Another 1.8 million doses are to be supplied, starting in April, under the African Medical Supply Platform.

“The mandate remains to identify and source four million doses of vaccine by March 2022 to inoculate at least 65 per cent of the Jamaican population,” the health minister stressed.

— Additional reporting by AFP

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