Mass vaccination still the best answer

We have had just about enough of COVID-19.

And like the rest of the world, we would like to see the back of it.

That is why the race to discover an effective vaccine that would see populations quickly and safely reach herd immunity was given unprecedented attention, financing and focus by world governments and the global medical community.

It is why, though clinical trials are still underway, when several vaccines showed high efficacy and generally mild side effects, they were approved for emergency use in many countries.

However, the fact that long-term study of the vaccines did not occur before those approvals always meant there was some inherent risk.

The COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca has been rife with issues surrounding concerns about the data presented from the trials as well as issues surrounding blood clots that sometimes proved fatal.

The AstraZeneca vaccine was the preferred choice of the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization due to its effectiveness, relative affordability and ease of storage.

The Bahamas was included in those developing countries to receive batches of the vaccine.

When the issue of blood clots in the United Kingdom and the European Union arose last month, it coincided with the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines we received as a gift from India, further complicating the messaging around the safety of the vaccine.

But the European Medicines Agency (EMA) reported days later that the benefits of the vaccine in combating the still widespread threat of COVID-19 continued to outweigh the risk of side effects and the vaccine was not associated with an increase in the overall risk of blood clots in those who receive it.

COVID-19 itself can cause fatal blood clots, along with a laundry list of other potentially fatal conditions.

It is understandable that given these factors and that the long-term effects of COVID-19 are still being added to an already troubling list, countries that suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine altogether mostly continued, though many of them limited the use of the vaccine in younger populations.

Then, yesterday brought more troubling news.

The EMA and the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) separately reported a possible link between the vaccine and rare blood clotting issues.

Both said the benefits still outweighed the risks.

Our local medical professionals agreed with this benefit assessment when asked about this issue at yesterday’s Ministry of Health press conference.

However, Britain is recommending that people under 30 be offered a different vaccine if available.

We currently do not have that option in The Bahamas.

The concerns raised by both regulators are valid and should not be dismissed.

However, they should be contextualized.

With over 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine having already been administered, there have been a total of 86 cases of rare coagulation disorders, according to the EMA.

Unfortunately, 18 of those people have died.

Over 10,000 people have been vaccinated so far in The Bahamas, according to local health officials.

None of them have died or have been hospitalized, according to those same health officials.

Out of 132 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, over 2.8 million people have died.

Out of 9,296 cases of COVID-19 in The Bahamas, 189 people have died.

There is no question that COVID-19 is in order of magnitude more dangerous and deadly than any COVID-19 vaccine that is currently approved for emergency use.

This disease is so widespread and so menacing that we must maintain the vaccination effort.

And, indeed, ramp it up.

Allowing teachers and school staff, hospitality workers, students and athletes studying or competing abroad and home-bound physically disabled people to now get vaccinated, as was announced yesterday, is certainly a step in the right direction.

Seeking to source more and different approved vaccines as Minister of Health Renward Wells revealed yesterday is another.

But that does not mean that we let our guard down with regard to COVID-19 or with monitoring adverse effects in the aftermath of vaccination.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pearl McMillian said 69 people who had been vaccinated reported 119 adverse events.

Headaches, fever, chills, muscle pain, pain at the site of the injection, fatigue and nausea were the most reported symptoms.

If you plan on getting vaccinated, you should speak with a health professional, even if it is at the vaccination administration site.

If you are normally at serious risk for blood clots, you should have a thorough conversation with your doctor before making your decision.

We still support COVID-19 vaccination.

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