12 March 2021, Port Vila: The Ministry of Health would like to provide an update to the public on the COVID-19 vaccine currently planned to be used in Vanuatu in 2021.
Vaccines reduce the risk of getting a disease by working with your body’s natural defences to build protection. When you get a vaccine, your immune system responds. Safe and effective vaccines are an important tool, in combination with other measures, to protect against COVID-19 and save lives.
COVAX Facility or the COVID 19 Vaccine Global Access Facility is a global procurement mechanism coordinated by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, WHO and UNICEF. The goal of the COVAX facility is to ensure fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries. Vanuatu is a participant of the COVAX facility and as such expect vaccines to begin arriving in Vanuatu to cover up to 20 per cent of the population in the initial planned rollout in 2021. The Ministry of Health will keep the public informed of the dates of arrival of the vaccines and of the roll-out as soon as dates are confirmed.
Following the recommendations from the Scientific Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) to WHO, the COVID-19 vaccine will be administered in priority to: (1) people at high risk to be exposed to the infection such as health care workers, frontline workers at the borders and in quarantine facilities, (2) people at high risk of severity or death in case of COVID-19 infection such as elderly (>55 years old) and people between 35 and 55 years old with existing health conditions.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been listed by WHO for emergency use and will be used in Vanuatu. The approval process for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in Vanuatu follows the usual high standards for the regulation of vaccines and is based on evidence of safety and efficacy provided by the results of clinical trials. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored using the existing cold-chain used in Vanuatu for routine immunisation and doesn’t require specific freezers.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved based on the safety and efficacy data from clinical trials. The most frequently reported adverse reactions in these trials were injection-site tenderness, injection-site pain, headache, fatigue, myalgia, malaise, fever, chills, arthralgia, and nausea. Most adverse reactions were mild to moderate in severity and usually resolved within a few days of vaccination. Out of over 7 million doses administered in the UK since early December, it has been reported that severe adverse events (allergic reaction) are very rare. A recent study show that it has an efficacy of 81% after second dose administered after 12 weeks.
Currently, clinical trials for children under 18 are ongoing. No evidence on safety and efficacy are available. Vaccines for children under 18 are currently not recommended. This might change as results from clinical trials become available in the coming months.
Although vaccines are an important tool in fighting COVID-19 even the most effective vaccines will not end the pandemic on their own. We are still learning about COVID-19 vaccines. As of today, we know that currently approved vaccines prevent people getting sick. It is too early to know if the vaccine will prevent transmission of the virus, provide long-term protection against the virus and if it is effective for all age groups.
The Ministry of Health has been working tirelessly to ensure the health system is prepared and ready to accept a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they become available. The now approved National Deployment and Vaccination Plan (NDVP) is an important tool that ensures that the health system is operationally ready to accept and deliver vaccines safely.
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Keep up to date with information from the Ministry of Health as well as from other credible sources like WHO.