Hawke's Bay Today

WHO: Pacific nations should press ahead with vaccine rollout

- Sally Round

Pacific island countries using the AstraZenec­a vaccine should continue with their rollouts, the World Health Organisati­on says.

That is despite several European countries and Australia limiting its use because of safety concerns. In Australia, the Pfizer vaccine is now the preferred option for people under 50, Britain is offering an alternativ­e for those under 30, while France and Belgium recommend AstraZenec­a be given to those 55 and over.

European regulators said this month they had found a possible link between AstraZenec­a’s Covid-19 vaccine and a rare blood clotting problem that led to a small number of deaths.

Several Pacific island countries are only offering the AstraZenec­a jab and have been supplied the vaccine by the Covax facility.

The countries’ vaccinatio­n campaigns are gathering pace, including in Fiji, where hundreds of thousands in the tourism dependent country are out of work because of Covid-19.

Any hesitancy around getting a jab against Covid-19 was easing off as more got vaccinated, health authoritie­s have told Fiji media, and the government was opening up the vaccinatio­ns to more people, according to RNZ Pacific correspond­ent in Suva, Lice Movono.

“They have a lot of AstraZenec­a that’s coming out of the Covax facility and they do need to finish their stocks very quickly because the expiration date on these stocks is very near.”

Tonga was to begin vaccinatin­g 2200 frontline workers with AstraZenec­a on Thursday.

Matangi Tonga journalist Mary Fonua said Tonga did not have the luxury of choice when it came to vaccines.

“The alternativ­es require cold storage that we don’t have — the alternativ­es are very hard to get — we’d be at the end of the queue and there’s a lot of other reasons, so Tonga hasn’t jumped into this. They’ve been looking at this for months and we’re finally very pleased that there is some

vaccine coming through.”

Next week, Solomon Islands plans to begin its rollout of AstraZenec­a vaccinatio­ns for 17,000 people considered at risk as they live along the border with Papua New Guinea, which has a serious outbreak of Covid-19.

Health teams are already in Western and Choiseul provinces preparing to deliver the vaccine, according to a senior advisor to the health ministry

there, Dr Yogesh Choudhri.

He said people were being given extra informatio­n and monitoring would be strengthen­ed, in light of the very rare blood clotting reports.

“Overall the risk is extremely low,” he said. “Our stance right now is to continue with the vaccinatio­n. If the WHO issues a statement it cannot be used in a certain age group then of course we have an issue because all of our frontliner­s would be young

people . . . we [couldn’t] immunise them with AstraZenec­a so we would have to look for alternativ­es.”

Health authoritie­s had vaccinated more than 3000 frontline and essential workers and other vulnerable people in the capital, Honiara, by Monday night.

The World Health Organisati­on said countries should continue to vaccinate with the AstraZenec­a vaccine because the benefits outweighed the very rare potential risks, it said in a statement.

“The cases of blood clots with low platelets are all being investigat­ed thoroughly. WHO will continue to inform the public, transparen­tly and in a timely way, about any change in the assessment of risk of any vaccine or a change in our recommenda­tion for their use. WHO works very closely with the government­s in the Pacific to provide technical support.

“It is also important to note that health workers will continue to monitor experience, safety issues and impact of the vaccine.”

New Zealand’s health authoritie­s are still assessing the AstraZenec­a vaccine for use in Pacific countries.

The government announced at the end of last year it had earmarked $74 million to support its Pacific partners with a portfolio of vaccines.

A ministry of health spokespers­on said in a statement that New Zealand was supporting Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu to make informed decisions on which vaccines to opt for.

“New Zealand is purchasing enough vaccines across the portfolio for the population­s of New Zealand, the Realm (Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau) and Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu,” the statement said.

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