Dr F Thomas: Sierra Leone Telegraph 30 December 2020
Today’s announcement by the UK government that it has approved the Oxford – AstraZeneca vaccine, has brought hope to millions in Africa, who had felt disappointed at the logistical nightmare of transporting and storing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on the continent for use.
The Coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the whole world for over a year now. It apparently started in China but gradually made its way across the world. Unfortunately, no country on earth has been spared.
It seems the coronavirus infection is worse in Europe and the United States, China and India. However, although Africa seems to have been relatively spared with much fewer recorded cases and deaths, there is growing alarm at the exponential rate of increase in countries such as South Africa where a new and highly virulent strain of the virus has emerged.
In December, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved in the UK , and to date – over 600,000 UK residents have been vaccinated.
So far, only two people have been reported to have suffered significant side effects after taking the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. These were two nurses in the UK known to have serious allergic reactions to other substances and have been prescribed an Epipen – adrenaline injection.
Others have had minor aches on the site of the injection on the upper arm. There have been no deaths reported. Elderly people above the age of 80 and health professionals are all in this first wave of vaccination. Each person vaccinated has a second dose of the vaccine after three weeks of taking the first dose. Research has shown that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is highly effective.
But there is even better news from the UK today. Just two days to the New Year 2021, the British government has approved for use, a second coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca. The government has already ordered 100 million doses of this Oxford vaccine.
This is welcome news as the challenge now is for billions of vaccines to be produced for use across the world and in all conditions, especially in Africa to get rid of this virus.
What do we know about this Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine?
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine which as in the case of the Pfizer vaccine, is also given in two doses. It is made from a weakened version of the common cold and is expected to prevent serious illness from Covid-19. It prompts the immune system to start producing antibodies which then attack the virus.
The second dose is given 1-3 months after the first dose. Having 2 doses is said to give 62% protection, which at least is better than no protection at all. It should be noted that the best flu vaccine gives only 50% protection against the flu virus. The Pfizer vaccine gives 95% protection from covid19 after the two doses. It is not yet known whether the Oxford vaccine stops people from catching covid19, as it is such a new vaccine.
Can both the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and Pfizer vaccine be taken together?
No. Every person will be given the two doses of either the Pfizer or the Oxford vaccine and they will not be able to chose which one to have.
Who cannot take the Oxford/AstraZeneca?
Pregnant and breast-feeding women were initially advised not to take the Pfizer vaccine. However, this data has now been updated. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to discuss the benefit and risk of taking the vaccine with their doctor. The same applies to the Oxford vaccine.
Under – 18s will not be given either vaccine for now.
The advice has also been updated for people with allergies. Only those with an allergy to any of the ingredients used in the vaccines should not be given.
When will vaccination with this latest vaccine commence in the UK?
The UK government has ordered 100 million doses and it is hoped that vaccination could start as early as next week.
How will this new Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine help Africa?
This is exciting as it will be easier to transport and store this vaccine for use in Africa. Most countries in Africa have temperatures between 20 degrees and 37 degrees centigrade and so very cold specimens warm up very quickly in these temperatures. This vaccine can be stored in a normal fridge with temperature between 2 – 6 degrees for 6 months. This is much better than the Pfizer vaccine which has to be stored at minus 70 degrees (colder than most freezers) and should be used within 5 days.
It is hoped that the vaccine will be made available on the African continent very soon. It is not known how much the vaccine will cost, but the expectation is for advanced and richer countries to make the vaccines available and affordable for use in Africa.
These are exciting times. Is this the beginning of the end of the coronavirus COVID 19? Let’s hope so.