The Couva Hospital.

Rishard Khan

[email protected]

Less than one year after the COVID-19 pandemic reached our shores the first doses of a vaccine will be administered today.

The North Central Health Authority (NCRHA), which controls the main COVID-19 treatment facilities, said it will commence immunization with “those frontline health workers, specifically employed at its COVID facilities – Arima Hospital, Caura Hospital, Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Couva Hospital Facility, as well as its step-down facilities throughout the region.”

It would be done at the Couva Multi-Training Facility.

Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh will attend at 2pm to mark the event.

It is expected that the healthcare workers would be inoculated from a batch of 2,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine given to T&T by Barbados late last week.

The vaccination drive comes less than 48 hours after the World Health Organisation (WHO) gave emergency-use listing to two versions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday; one produced by SKBio in the Republic of Korea and the other which is produced by the Serum Institute of India.

This approval is exactly what the Ministry of Health has been waiting on before administering the vaccine. Throughout the pandemic, officials such as the Minister of Health and Chief Medical Officer maintained that they would only employ a vaccine which has received the WHO’s approval.

Until now, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was the only one to receive the WHO’s emergency-use listing.

The approval should also now trigger the distribution of vaccine doses through the COVAX facility of which T&T has already bought into through a US$1.5 million downpayment. The country is expected to receive between 100,000 to 120,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine within the coming weeks. These doses would be a part of the country’s first phase of vaccinations which would go to healthcare workers, the elderly and essential workers.

What Does SAGE Recommend for the Vaccine?

The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) has issued interim recommendations for use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. It recommends that priority be given to health workers at high risk of exposure and older people. Despite concerns over scarcity of data for its efficacy in the elderly from some European countries, SAGE endorses its use in people over 65 years.

It also advises that it be administered to those with comorbidities that have been identified as increasing the risk of severe COVID-19, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and diabetes.

SAGE is not particularly keen on vaccinating pregnant women as there is very little data are available to assess vaccine safety in pregnancy. However, it notes that pregnant women may receive the vaccine if the benefit of vaccinating a pregnant woman outweighs the potential vaccine risks. The Ministry of Health has already stated it would not be administering the vaccine to pregnant women locally.

It is not advised to be administered to people with a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine. It is also not advised to be administered to children under the age of 18 pending further studies.

The Ministry of Health confirmed 10 new COVID-19 cases yesterday from samples collected between February 13 and 15, one of which came from a repatriated national. The new infections brought the total cases for the country up to 7,656.

The ministry also released 11 people from under its care; three people were discharged from public health facilities while eight people were released from home self-isolation as recovered community cases. These made 7,362 people to recover from the infection.

The number of active infections dropped to 156 of which 21 were in hospitals, 124 were in home self-isolation and one was in a step-down facility. There were 354 people in state-quarantine facilities. Deaths remained at 138.