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Dr. Erica Wheeler, PAHO/WHO Representative, left, Terrence Deyalsingh, Minister of Health, and Dr. Roshan Parasram, Chief Medical Officer at Piarco International Airport to accept the arrival of the COVAX delivery of the AstraZenaca vaccines on Tuesday.

SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

In the coming weeks, the Ministry of Health will have to decide whether Tuesday’s shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines will be used to administer the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to front-line workers.

Speaking at a Ministry of Health press conference yesterday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram said the vaccines will expire on May 31, several weeks shy of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended eight to 12-week interval between doses.

On Tuesday evening, this country received over 33,000 doses of the vaccine from the COVAX facility.

“Given May 31 being our expiry and we are supposed to start on April 6, we basically at best, have about seven weeks with that first dose

Remembering what the manufacturer had put out early on is that the second dose should have been given 21 to 28 days after the first dose

and what we found now in terms of the research, after you’ve had your first dose of this particular vaccine you roughly have about 76 per cent protection with one single dose that goes up somewhere about 82 and 84 per cent with a second dose given up to manufacturer’s specifications meaning 21 to 28 days apart,” Parasram said.

He said studies have shown that getting closer to the 12-week interval, protection goes up into the 90th percentile. This means the Ministry will have to decide whether it will wait for more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the second dose or proceed with doses from this order.

“But that depends on the delivery of that second tranche of AstraZeneca and we will make that decision in the coming weeks when we get to the halfway point, which is just under 16,000 doses as to whether we are going to give that second dose with this first tranche or to give it with the second tranche that we receive thereafter.”

Parasram said those under 18 years of age and those pregnant or breastfeeding will not be given the vaccine at this time.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh confirmed both he and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley will be vaccinated on Tuesday when the vaccination programme is set to begin.

He said his Parliamentary colleagues, including the Opposition and those in the Upper House, will have to wait until a second tranche of vaccines is delivered.

Asked if there were any concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine, given reports that the vaccine was causing blood clots in some patients in Europe, Deyalsingh said data has confirmed there was no link between the vaccine and the blood clots.

“We always look at the situation in other countries and we look at it dispassionately and without any degree of panic. You may remember there was some cases of blood clots in the elderly in Europe that temporarily halted their project, we said we would look at the data, the data came back and said there was no link but we always monitor these things to make sure our policies are in line with scientific evidence,” Deyalsingh said.

Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and WHO country representative Dr Erica Wheeler agreed. She said the WHO is still encouraging countries to vaccinate their populations.

“The position of WHO is that countries should continue to vaccinate their populations because the evidence so far does not show that there is any clinical link or any death related to the current vaccines,” Wheeler said.

She said the WHO’s approval of the AstraZeneca and other vaccines was also on the basis of several other stringent regulatory authorities, including the US’s FDA, also approving the drugs.

“Our position is that we want to preserve life, we want to stop persons from becoming ill, from being hospitalised and of course, we want to stop people from dying,” she said.