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.
The Coronavirus is the topic on the lips of everyone now especially in the western countries. Even people like me who are not medically trained, have developed medical lingua and been following the news daily on this subject. So it was interesting to see this statement from the Director-General of the World Health Organisation Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warning of a ‘catastrophic moral failure’ after rich western countries ‘hoovered up’ most of the Covid-19 vaccine supplies. He also said that Guinea Conakry received only twenty-five vaccine doses while over thirty-nine million doses have been given in 50 richer nations. He blamed vaccine-makers for targetting locations where profits are highest, instead of prioritising the neediest patients.
This is shocking to say the least. However, the western countries are swamped with deaths and illness from this pandemic. African countries do have rising cases and deaths from COVID19, however not on the same scale as in industrialised countries. This may be due to the weather or a predominantly young population or other factors unknown. However, Sierra Leone has had its share of grief during the Ebola crisis, where whole families persisted during the plaque. I remember the news then, that a family of 16 died within a week and a baby was the sole survivor. So the good Lord remembered the Sierra Leonean struggle and decided to make things a bit easier for us.
We, Africans are lucky that Dr Tedros is Ethiopian and so will fight the Africans’ corner as well as of the world when it comes to health. If Guinea has 25 vaccines, I wonder how many Sierra Leone has? Has the SL government tried to procure any vaccines for its people? Is there a strategy in place in SL to target vulnerable groups in the country; to store the vaccine when it arrives in SL and to start injecting it into the arms of its citizens as soon as possible when it arrives in the coubtry, so that there is no wastage? Will there be a fair system where everyone who should have the vaccine is given it and not reserved only for top government officials and their families? Has the government liased with opposition parties to discuss the roll-out of the vaccine? Because as citizens of SL, Salone business nar all man business.
I do hope Sieera Leone is taking steps to procure millions of doses of the vaccine with the help of the UK, as their Astra Zeneca vaccine is cheap and as the article says, it is easier to store. Sierra Leonean lives need to be protected from this virus. Hopefully by the end of the year, infection from the virus will be grossly reduced around the whole after the mass vaccinations.
It is welcome development to have this Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine on the pipe line. Already we know hard hit industrialised nations with the COVID19 pandemic, have been buying and preparing for this moment, to hoard this vaccines from their research and production stages. The trouble is, this pandemic is affecting almost every country in the world, with few exceptions. Naturally, governments that are answerable to their general population, are doing everything within their power to be first in the queue. So their population are inoculated and protected against this deadly virus. You cannot say that about our government. While countries around the world are grappling with this pandemic, our politicians are busy stealing from the state.
More like we are dealing with the added burden of CORRUPTION pandemic, by our elected representatives. They are literally stealing from the sick and dying. Now when I think of our president and some of the selfish African leaders we have in the continent, that only care for themselves and their close associates, does not give me much to celebrate about, vaccine or no vaccine. For us in Sierra Leone, it will be a long hard wait. Even if we get it and is free by our international donor partners, government ministers and their cronies will be selling this vaccine to the highest bidder. So once again the vast majority of our country men and women, will be losing out and putting everyone’s life at risk.
The only way we can protect ourselves is to obey the universal COVID19 protocols. Wash your hands, wear a face mask and keep your distance. We can see even before the pandemic, our politicians don’t care for the welfare of the people. All they care about is to make quick bucks for themselves and their families. I hope Bio and the incompetent government he leads prove me wrong. His record since taking office have shown, he does not care about the welfare of the ordinary struggling man and woman in our country. Maybe it is only too right this pandemic has not turned deadly as in other countries. Otherwise, for Sierra Leoneans, we will be dealing with the double whammy of COVID19, corrupt politicians and Bio’s government that only have development projects earmarked for our great capital, Freetown. Once you cross the border from Waterloo, to the rest of what remains of Sierra Leone we are left to fend ourselves.