The African Union has enjoined African countries to continue to roll out the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
The call came amidst skepticism on the safety of the vaccine; at least 12 European countries have stopped using it citing blood clot and other side effects.
Briefing newsmen on Thursday, the Director of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Dr John Nkengasong, said after serious discussions and review of the evidence reported, Africa CDC concluded that the “benefits accruing from the AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine continue to outweigh any risks.”
He said, “I encourage countries to continue with their vaccination campaigns and not to pause, as we are in a race against time.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) had on Wednesday, March 17, also said the benefits of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine outweigh its risks and recommended that vaccinations continues.
The European Union’s drug regulator, European Medicines Agency (EMA), had also in its findings released on Thursday, said the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was safe.
The organization conducted investigation into the incidents of blood clotting that occurred among a handful of Oxford/AstraZeneca recipients in Europe.
Countries that halted use of the COVID-19 vaccine include Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, Latvia and Bulgaria, among others.
In Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo had delayed rollout of the vaccine because of the suspensions in Europe.
Meanwhile, the WHO African region office in a statement Thursday, said the suspension is regarding one specific batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not been distributed to Africa.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said nearly seven million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Africa, adding that “Additional supplies are urgently required to narrow the gap between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.”
Governors back continued use of vaccine
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) on Wednesday also supported the continued rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine across the country.
The governors said they believed the vaccine was safe and the vaccination should continue.
NFG Chairman and Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, said so far, the vaccines have not shown any signs of side-effect as widely rumoured.
The forum was earlier briefed by COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group (CTAG) led by renowned virologist, Professor Oyewale Tomori, which recommended that Nigeria should continue to vaccinate all eligible persons with the AstraZeneca vaccine, as recommended WHO.
Also, the Director-General of NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, said no adverse effect of serious nature had so far been reported from the vaccine in the country.
Speaking during the Channels Television breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, on Wednesday, monitored by our correspondent, he said, “We have not reported adverse events of serious nature or special interest.”
“People are dying of COVID-19. The vaccines should not be stopped unless the side effect is a statistically massive occurrence.
“It is logical to think that way but when you come to think of the many hundreds of thousands that are dying, especially in Europe, of COVID disease, you then start wondering whether it is better to die than take a risk of 0.00002%?”
Also, the National Economic Council (NEC) has urged Nigerians to participate in the vaccination when it is their turn.
The Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, while making a presentation to the council, said “all states except Kogi have received their vaccines.”
Dr Shuaib said Kogi State was yet to receive due to the non-repair of their cold-chain store coupled with the state’s concerns around the contradictory information about the vaccines.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who chaired the meeting, lauded NPHCDA for smooth coordination of the nationwide distribution of the vaccines.
‘Headache, fever among side effects in Nigeria’
Some Nigerians who have taken the AstraZeneca vaccine said they have not witnessed any major side effect so far.
They, however, said the common complaints remained headache, fever, pain and tenderness at the vaccine site.
Hauwa Abbas Hadejia, an advocacy worker collected her jab on Monday, March 15, and said she felt okay a day after. “On the day I collected it, I had a headache and nausea in the night, but by the next evening I was okay.
“When I got home, I took paracetamol but because I was feeling nauseous, the doctor asked me to take Priton. I was other people that took it with me and nothing happened to them.”
Speaking on if there was any monitoring mechanism for persons who had taken the jab, she said “there is an app (Med Safety App) where they monitor those of us who have collected the vaccine as well as contact numbers to call in case the need arises.”
The Med Safety App is the latest reporting tool introduced by NAFDAC in November 2020, as part of the Innovative Medicine Initiative Project. The App is made available to the public in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), Upsala Monitoring Centre, Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) UK and NAFDAC.
A health worker, who does not want to be named, said he only felt fever and headache on the first day of the jab but returned to his normal activities the following day.
A journalist with the Daily Independent newspaper, Mrs Toyin Adurodija, said she took the vaccine four days ago and has not felt any side effect. She said she didn’t have headache, fever or any pain at the site of vaccination.
In an interview with Daily Trust, the National Incident Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr Mukhtar Muhammad, who has also taken the vaccine, said: “The side effects are not different from the normal side effects that you have with other vaccines such as yellow fever or Hepatitis B.
“The most important one is may be a pain in the injection site. There will be pain and people should know that it is going to pain them. For about 24 or 48 hours, you will continue to have that,” he said.
He said some people might develop some level of fever. “You will feel unwell. You will feel a little sick. You may not know what is wrong with you. You can have headache. All these are mild symptoms that are associated normally when you have foreign body entering into somebody’s body.
“But this is only in a few percent of cases. And that is explainable because your body is training itself to fight the disease,” he said.
We’re expecting 16m additional doses
The federal government has said that the low roll out of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was due to operational reasons to ensure effectiveness of the vaccination.
The National Incident Manager (NIM) of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Dr Mukhtar Muhammad, told Daily Trust on Thursday in Abuja that the initial roll out was symbolic and to demonstrate that the vaccines have arrived and that they are safe.
“However, in order to roll out in the communities, we needed to do lots of training; we have to do state level and local government level trainings, so these are the things you are probably referring to.
“Even then, we are targeting the health care workers and it is the same team that vaccinated the health care workers that would now move to do the general public vaccination.
“Secondly, there is lots of advocacy going on in the states, like oral polio and others,” Muhammad said.
When asked what would happen after Nigeria might have exhausted the 3.9m doses, Muhammad said the government will get additional doses.
He said, “Already, discussions are on; we are going to get the additional 16m doses from the same Oxford-AstraZeneca from India in the next few weeks.”
Kano dismisses vaccine boycott
Health officials in Kano on Thursday dismissed reports that people had boycotted the COVID-19 vaccine.
Daily Trust reports that the state’s COVID-19 Technical Response Team had weeks ago issued guidelines on how the vaccination will be carried out.
Reacting to reports (not by Daily Trust) that people were not turning up for the exercise, the Deputy Coordinator of the Response Team, Dr. Sabitu Shuaibu Shanono, said the report could have been informed by ignorance of the process of the exercise.
“Vaccination is in phases and based on this, we can say categorically that we are on course. The first stage, which is where we are at the moment, is for personalities (to show to the populace that it is safe and should be taken by all when available) and health workers.
“And based on this, you could see that the governor and his cabinet have been vaccinated. Similarly, health workers have started receiving the vaccination at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital and other designated centres.
“Today (Thursday), each local government did its official flag off of the exercise with chairmen of the LGAs receiving the vaccines,” he said.
When asked when the vaccination will reach members of the public, Dr Shanono said the state will go by the national guidelines and that is expected from the second and third quarter of the year.
Daily Trust reports that Nigeria received the COVAX facility 3.94 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine on March 2.
The COVAX Facility is expected to deliver around 90 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the African region in the first quarter of 2021, and has committed to providing up to 600 million doses to the region by end of 2021 to cover 20 per cent of the population.
The vaccination exercise in Nigeria commenced with frontline healthcare workers on March 5, at the National Hospital, Abuja.
By Ojoma Akor, Amina Alhassan, Abbas Jimoh, Muideen Olaniyi (Abuja) & Clement A. Oloyede (Kano)