The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 says it is aware of the increasing concerns about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, noting that Nigeria has suffered a major setback in the campaign to make citizens and residents take the jabs.
The PTF also decried some prominent Nigerians who had been using the cases of side effects, especially in Europe, to discourage their followers from accepting the vaccine.
The National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, who was represented by the National Incident Manager, Dr Muktar Muhammad, made this known at the press conference of the task force on Monday.
Muhammad stated this as five more countries halted the administration of the vaccine because of the fear of the possible deadly side effects.
Recall that The Federal Government had on Thursday said Nigeria would continue to administer AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine despite its suspension by eight European countries.
On Thursday, eight European countries – Denmark, Norway, Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Iceland and Luxembourg – suspended all or part of its roll-out as a precaution while they investigated concerns relating to blood clots and other side effects caused by the vaccine.
The Minister of State for Health, Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora; and a prominent virologist, Prof Oyewale Tomori, had separately told The PUNCH that there was nothing to worry about. The Federal Government two weeks ago received 3.94 million doses of the vaccine from COVAX facility, an initiative co-led by the Vaccine Alliance, GAVI and the World Health Organisation.
Despite the assurance by government on Thursday, the National Incident Manager, Muhammad, on Monday, said, “We have suffered a major setback in the last few hours regarding the taunted safety and efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. We have seen in the news how some countries have deferred the usage of this vaccine or have suspended its use. The list of the European countries is growing.
“However, it is very reassuring to see that the regulatory agencies in those countries have continued to emphasise that the vaccine is safe and that the incidents of blood clotting reported in the patients are not higher than the risk of blood clotting in people who are not vaccinated. So, it is something really reassuring.
“It is also heart-warming to see that the WHO has again issued statements – over the last few days, the WHO has been bringing out statements regarding the safety and efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. It is therefore important that we take this information seriously and that we use it as a guide towards the implementation of our programmes.”
The Incident Manager noted that Nigeria’s health sector, especially the Federal Ministry of Health, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control and National Health Care Development Agency, was “working not only to reassure Nigerians but also to make a determination to continue to get information regarding any side effects that people are experiencing in this country.”
He added, “So, with this, I will say that the available information from the clinical trials has shown that the vaccine is generally safe and efficacious, and that it has an efficacy of about 70 per cent. The side effects are usually mild, which include fever, cough and cold. Any symptoms that have persisted more than 24 hours should be reported through the right channel at the state level, through the PHCDA and the state case managers.”
The PTF warned Nigerians against capitalising on the arrival of the vaccine in the country to flout the laid-down COVID-19 protocols, which include the use of face masks, observance of physical distancing at public events.
The task force also urged state governments to intensify efforts at enforcement of health regulations signed by the President “until we reach a certain point where we are comfortable with the level of immunity in the country.”
Muhammad said, “It is sad to note that some people of very high positions, particularly some political and religious leaders, have used this opportunity to provide misinformation to the public regarding the response and the efficacy of the vaccine.
“We urge them to please contact the relevant experts in the field before they make these pronouncements. Any pronouncement by a responsible political or religious leader to a gathering should be based on science and facts, and not just what they feel at that moment.”
Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Holland pause AstraZeneca vaccine rollout
As the PTF advised Nigerians, Spain, Germany, France, Holand and Italy on Monday were the latest European countries to temporarily suspend the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
According to the CNN, the countries suspended the rollout of the vaccine over a small number of blood clot concerns, going against the advice of international medical agencies as a third wave of infections loom over the continent.
Spain’s health minister, Carolina Darias, announced in a nationally televised news conference Monday that the country would stop using the vaccine for two weeks.
She said, “It is a temporary and precautionary suspension until the risks can be evaluated by the European Medicines Agency.”
Similarly, German health minister, Jens Spahn, on Monday said the country would pause inoculations as a precaution, following reports of a handful of cases of blood clots in people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot in Denmark and Norway.
France and Italy also halted their rollouts of the vaccine on Monday, pending review by the EU’s medicines regulator, the European Medicines Agency.
French President, Emmanuel Macron, said, “We have decided to suspend the use of AstraZeneca as a precautionary measure and are hoping to resume it quickly if the EMA’s advice allows it.”
The Dutch government said its suspension, which will last until at least 29 March, was a precaution. Also on Monday, the Federal Government cautioned Nigerians to be wary of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as being experienced in some countries.
The government also told Nigerians to be careful of home-based care as there might not be enough facilities and personnel to manage patients in times of emergencies.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, stated these during a press conference of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
He stated, “As of March 14 2021, our bed occupancy had reduced to 1.22 per cent and active cases stand at 13,245. Unfortunately, Nigeria crossed 2,000 fatalities on March 12, 2021, and we have now recorded 2,013 deaths.
“The PTF will like to caution Nigerians on home-based care as there may not be enough facilities and personnel to manage patients in times of emergencies.
“It is in this vein that concerted efforts have been made to ensure that oxygen is available for patients in all the 46 facilities.”
He acknowledged reports from all over the world in the last few days focusing on the safety and side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine being currently rolled out in Nigeria.
The SGF, however, said that the Nigerian authorities had tested and authorised the use of the vaccine, because it was safe and efficacious.
The SGF said discussions with the KLM and Emirate Airlines were still ongoing on the issue of pre-boarding testing for passengers, whose final destinations of travel were their home bases.
According to him, KLM resumed outbound flights from Lagos on March 15, 2021 without RDTs, while a letter has been written to Emirates Airlines to suspend flights with effect from the midnight of Wednesday, March 17, 2021.
Mustapha said the arrival of vaccine had not in any way distracted the government from pursuing the national response to COVID-19 as originally conceptualised, as well as testing, detection, tracing, isolation and treatment.
He stated, “For the avoidance of doubt, the virus is very potent and people still get infected. It is also a fact that the vaccination process has only just begun. It has been reported that some countries are recording a third wave of cases.
“We urge all Nigerians to recognise that we are not yet out of the woods. Therefore, the PTF shall continue to emphasis and promote strict adherence to the NPIs.”
Over 8000 Nigerians vaccinated, says NPHCDA
Over 8000 persons have received the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID – 19 vaccines, the Federal Government said on Monday.
The government also said it had not received any official report of serious adverse effects from any of those who have been vaccinated.
The Executive Director of National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, stated these during the press conference of the Presidential Task Force on COVID – 19.
He, however, said, “mild side effects such as pain and swelling at the site of the vaccination, are expected.”
Shuaib said, “All state governors apart from Kogi have launched the vaccination programme. These launches also involved public vaccination of the governor and strategic leaders, again to underscore the confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
“As part of the vaccine launch in the states that occurred last week, over 8,000 Nigerians have been administered the vaccine. We have not received any official report of serious adverse effects from any of those who have been vaccinated.”