The global roll out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine encountered another hurdle when a handful of countries paused their use of the shot following reports it could be connected to blood clots.
But while many countries are pulling away, health officials in Dominica are defending the vaccine, stressing that there is “no evidence of an increased risk” of blood clots, and that the ministry of health’s vaccination programme should continue.
First to address the topic this week, was Health and Wellness Minister Hon. Dr Irvin McIntyre who stated at a cabinet press conference that the available data suggests that numbers of adverse events related to blood clots are the same (and possibly, in fact, lower) in vaccinated groups compared to unvaccinated populations.
“We are still safe with our AstraZeneca vaccine. We must also look at the majority of cases who’ve continued with the AstraZeneca. It’s a minority that has stopped the vaccine. Over fifty countries are using the vaccine and maybe just a few of them that have held back their vaccination from AstraZeneca,” he noted.
The health minister noted that halting a vaccine roll out during a pandemic has consequences as it could result in delays in protecting people and the potential for increased vaccine hesitancy as a result of people who have seen the headlines and understandably, become concerned.
“So if you ask me, I don’t believe it helped the situation at all. So we, here in Dominica, have nothing to worry about as it pertains to our vaccine,” Dr. McIntyre insisted. “As we saw with the safety of vaccines, after the Chinese Vaccine, AstraZeneca was second on the list so I don’t think we should worry about that. There is no significant scientific evidence to say that it was related to the blood clots which was mentioned.”
Adding her voice to the discussion, Director of Primary Health Care, Dr. Laura Esprit pointed out that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 will not reduce illness or deaths from other non-COVID related conditions such as blood clot which are known to occur frequently in the population, whether vaccinated or not.
“Venous thromboembolism is the third most common cardiovascular disease globally so that’s irrespective of taking the vaccine,” Dr. Esprit explained.
She further stated that in extensive vaccination campaigns, it is routine for countries to signal potential adverse events following immunization, however, this does not necessarily mean that the events are linked to the vaccination itself but it’s a good practice to investigate all of them.
“It also shows that the vaccination surveillance system is working and that effective controls are in place,” the health official stated.
Dr. Esprit further pointed out that the World Health Organization (WHO) has said that the benefits of the AstraZeneca Vaccine outweigh its risk and recommends that vaccinations continue.
In an effort to strengthen the message from his colleagues, National Epidemiologist, Dr. Shalauddin Ahmed referenced information released by the company which produces the vaccine that more than 17 million people have been vaccinated in the European Union and the United Kingdom and have shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia in any defined age group or gender batch for any particular country.
He further emphasized that the batch of AstraZeneca vaccine that we are using in Dominica is a different from the one used by the Europeans.
“In conclusion, the shelf life for this AstraZeneca batch of vaccines is limited with an expiry date of May end, however, to give an eight-week interval between the doses, the deadline for the first dose of this vaccine is March 29 so let us hurry up and let’s get vaccinated,” Dr. Ahmed advised.