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AstraZeneca vaccine: Myths and fact

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By Feston Malekezo 

Few hours after President Lazarus Chakwera and his vice Saulos Chilima got shots of Oxford’s AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, there circulated a news item that countries such as Denmark, Iceland, Norway and four others had announced suspension of the use of the vaccine.

The news said the European Union’s medicines regulator was to investigate whether the shot could be linked to a number of reports of blood clots on those who had taken the vaccine.

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It was even reported that a 50-year-old man had died in Italy after developing deep vein thrombosis after a dose of the vaccine. On March 5, 2021, Malawi received 360, 000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to only those willing, an initiative that began on March 11, 2021.

The roll-out was made amid growing rumors and fear about the safety and effects of the vaccine, later compounded by the news of the temporary suspension of the vaccine in some European countries. What we know at present is that AstraZeneca vaccine has an efficacy rate of 63.09 percent, according to World Health Organisation (WHO).

As to questions about its safety, medicine regulatory institutions in Europe agree that the vaccine is safe.

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In the UK where more than 11 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been administered, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) told the BBC that there was no evidence that the vaccine had caused problems, “and people should still go and get vaccinated when asked to do so.”

The BBC quoted an MHRA official Phil Bryan as saying: “Blood clots can occur naturally and are not uncommon.”

The BBC further refers to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as saying, “There is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions (of blood clotting), which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine.”

“The vaccine’s benefits continue to outweigh its risks and the vaccine can continue to be administered of thromboembolic events is ongoing,” it added.

But what does the Malawi government say?

“There is no reason to worry. We have heard what is happening in some parts of Europe but if you look at what has been published by the European Medine Agency there is no link Charles Mwansambo, Secretary for Health. Co-chairperson of the Presidential Task force on Covid-19, Wilfred Chalamira Nkhoma, also told our sister paper Malawi News that as of now, there is no evidence that the clots that have been observed were a result of the vaccine.

“Of course like the others, we will be actively collecting side effects by those that have received the vaccine,” he said.

Additional facts include that matched with other vaccines, the AstraZeneca vaccine is the cheapest, selling at around $4 per dose. Verified information indicates that the common side effects that the vaccine has are pain on the jabbed site, headache, tiredness, muscle ache, fever, chills, joint ache and nausea. In this regard other effects such as one becoming barren are unfounded and Dr Mwansambo said the government shall continue administering the vaccine.

“As a nation we already have systems in place to monitor adverse effects of the vaccine,” he said.

Others have also tossed an argument that because the vaccine was made too quickly, so it must be ineffective, but experts have said scientists had to make big steps forward and the vaccines are both safe and effective.

Still there’s skepticism and unease about the vaccines as some are waiting to see what happens to those that have taken the jabs. Who is supposed to receive: below 18 or below 16?

“Ideally, studies were done on 18 years above. Those are the guidelines that we are using,” said Mwansambo.

How about pregnant women? “It is advisable that pregnant women should get the Covid-19 vaccine because we have to weigh the risk of getting the vaccine and absconding it,” he said, adding that the International Federation for gynecology and obstetrics states that pregnant women are at an increased risk of severe Covid-19 associated illness.

On the safety of the vaccine, Oxford said in a statement on Thursday that “The safety of the vaccine has been extensively studied in Phase III clinical trials and peer-reviewed data confirms the vaccine is generally well tolerated,” At present there are 14 vaccines that have been approved.

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