The New Today
Local News

Health defends decision to give AstraZeneca vaccine to persons over 65 despite international concerns

Health Minister Nickolas Steele – the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines is due to expire "ending of April or May

The Ministry of Health is preparing to administer the AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine to persons over 65, in spite of the decisions taken earlier this month by some European countries and the South African government not to permit its use on people in that age group, citing a need for additional efficacy data on the effect of the vaccine in older individuals.

The Ministry of Health has received 6000 doses of the India-manufactured AstraZeneca Vaccine, enough to vaccinate 3000 people, with two doses each.

According to Health Minister Nickolas Steele, who was among the first to be vaccinated, when the process commenced approximately three (3) weeks ago, the vaccine has already been administered to a number of frontline healthcare workers and that persons aged 65 and older are next on the list.

Citing immobility challenges, Minister Steele said that vaccinating persons in this age group would be done with a “different approach, in that there are individuals who are not as mobile and therefore it (the vaccination process), would involve visiting certain homes for individuals who might be shut in or it might be extremely inconvenient for them to come to any of the specific (vaccination) sites.”

International reports surfacing earlier this month speak of some European countries including Germany, which was the first to recommend an age restriction for the AstraZeneca vaccine, recommending that it be administered only to people under 65.

According to the information obtained on the Health Policy Watch Independent Global Health Reporting website, Switzerland, France, and Belgium took similar positions in that data on the AstraZeneca vaccine so far, is insufficient to permit its use among people over the age of 65.

The French government has described the Astra Zeneca vaccine as being “quasi-ineffective” and not producing the effects or results that are wanted.

Defending the government’s decision to administer AstraZeneca vaccine to Grenadians, Health Minister Steele relied on the fact that the “World Health Organisation (WHO) has approved and not banned the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for persons over 65.”

He pointed out that those countries restricting or not permitting the use of Astra-Zeneca for whatever reason are in a fortunate position where they rely purely on their own, to decide for themselves.

“They don’t rely on the WHO (and) even if the WHO says something, although the WHO is the official authority…we are saying that we rely on the WHO…CDC, Public Health Canada, UK, or European authorities (and if any of them) were to say that they do not advise or they banned (the AstraZeneca Vaccine), we would not be using it either (because) we would have similar concerns, but them (the countries) saying that they not using it in one area but using it in another area or age group or so that is not a ban, that is because they have the luxury of choice,” he said.

According to Minister Steele, “the only other difference is in South Africa where the South African government started the acquisition and approved vaccine (AstraZeneca), which he said “is still approved in South Africa.”

“They (South African government) did a study on the effectiveness of AstraZeneca on the South African strain, they only studied the AstraZeneca vaccine and found that it gave minimal protection, you could still get mild to serious, not hospitalisation, mild to serious conditions from COVID-19…and they said that because 90% of their cases is that strain, they are going to use something else with the expectation that it would have a better effect and I agree with their decision,” he said.

“So, in our opinion, because we do not have a wide community spread of the South African variant or any other variant, it is logical for us to proceed with the use of AstraZeneca because even if the South African variant was to come to Grenada the minimum protection would block it from coming in the community,” he added.

Minister Steele encouraged Grenadians to get vaccinated, noting that a return to normalcy can be quickly realised “once we can accelerate the process of vaccinating.”

“If we slow down the vaccination process…we will be looking at some of our neighbours and so enjoying their time because they have vaccinated the majority of their population and we have delayed because our population has adopted an ‘I want to wait and see’ attitude, and then it would be too late,” he warned.

Sharing the minister’s sentiments was Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Francis Martin who said that although “vaccinations have always been a topical issue, what people (are) forgetting is that we and our region have been very successful in protecting our citizens by doing very useful vaccinations.”

“It is well documented that we were one of the first regions in the world to eliminate measles, mumps rubella, and polio and that’s because of vaccinations. We are still in the same era, the vaccines that are being used is the same technology that has been used over the years…,” he said.

“…And so for us in the Ministry of Health, we have no fear that the side effects of the vaccine are similar to the side effects of all the other vaccines that we have used in the past to vaccinate our children…so, I want to encourage persons to think about what they are doing and about the decisions that they are making when it comes to vaccinations,” he remarked.

Dr. Martin explained that “the vaccine tricks your body into thinking that the COVID-19 virus” is present so that your body’s immune systems can start fighting it or mounting a response but the fact is that the vaccine would “not prevent the virus from being lodged in your nostrils, sinuses (or) lungs”.

“What it does is prevent the virus (from) causing you to be sick…in other words, someone who is vaccinated could still carry the virus with them…,” he said.

“…I must say, however, that this particular matter is being studied in the United Kingdom (UK)”, he said, adding that those individuals who received their second dose of AstraZeneca volunteered to receive the COVID-19 infection so that the scientists can study the effects of the vaccines.”

“The WHO and other scientists are currently looking to see whether or not the amount of virus you hold on you still is sufficient to cause someone else to become ill…we are still working out how long you would be immune for, we believe in the least you would be immune for a couple of months well and as the study comes out we will figure out if it could be a lifetime immunity or for one or two years. So, please go out and be vaccinated and help us to fight this COVID-19 Pandemic,” he added.

Min. Steele also said that preliminary information from the UK study “is showing that the virus dies much faster in someone who is vaccinated” and what they are trying to determine is how much faster.

“So, concerning the quarantine, if someone is vaccinated will they have to spend the same amount of time in quarantine or half the time or no quarantine? That’s is what is being determined.”

According to Min. Steele the first batch of AstraZeneca received in Grenada is due to expire “ending of April or May.”

He explained that once vaccinated persons will receive a vaccination card as “proof” which will contain among other things the person’s personal information such as name and age.

It will also “show the date you received the first dose and the date you have to come back for the second dose as well as the batch number for the actual vile that they would have received and the (name) of the individual who would have administered the vaccination”.

Apart from St George, government has also started the vaccination roll-out this week in the parishes of St. Andrew, St. Patrick, and the sister isle of Carriacou.

If you are satisfied with the information provided by The New Today to our many readers, followers and supporters around the world, then you can show your appreciation by making a financial contribution to the effort of our team of dedicated workers.

Giving back is a way of saying thank you for our efforts

Support The New Today