Astra Zeneca jab is safe, say health officials

Kenya’s health authorities continue to insist on the safety of the Astra Zeneca vaccine.

According to the acting director general of health Dr Patrick Amoth, the vaccine with an efficacy of 63 percent achieved at the first dose is still a proven and reliable source of protection against severe Covid-19 disease.

“The Astra Zeneca vaccine is still in use in the country because we are convinced of its efficacy and suitability for protecting Kenyans from severe disease, said Dr Amoth on April 11, 2021.

His remarks come amid rising concern among a section of Kenyans worried about the reports of countries suspending or stopping Astra Zeneca vaccine administration over concerns on some people developing blood clots.

On April 14, 2021 Denmark became the latest country to stop the administration of the vaccine due to its association with blood clots.

The Scandinavian country’s decision comes two days after the European Medical Agency’s announcement of the commencement of investigations into the vaccine.

EMA explained that its decision to start the probe was driven by an abundance of concerns on its association with blood clotting events.

Denmark now joins the Phillipines, Germany and South Africa in halting the administration of the vaccine.

The World Health Organization has also given the green light for the continued use of the vaccines, saying the benefits outweigh the risks.

WHO’s position has also received support from the Centres for Disease Control Africa region deputy director Dr Ahmed Ogwell.

Speaking to a local television station on April 13, 2021 Dr Ahmed Ogwell said the vaccines had been given approval after going through rigorous tests and vetting procedures.

He added that the administration of the vaccine, which was meant to protect people from severe Covid-19 disease, had so far taken off in Africa without a hitch.

“As CDC , we still recommend the Astra Zeneca vaccine because the documented benefits so far outweigh the risks it may pose to recipients. The rollout exercise on the continent has so far been satisfactory,” said Dr Ogwell.

On his part Kenya’s National Vaccination Programme head Dr Collins Tabu said there had been no reports of blood clots associated with the vaccine.

He said the health ministry had recorded 233 reports of adverse reactions, but was quick to point out that none of them involved blood clots  

“We have not received around 233 reports of adverse reactions to the vaccine, but most of those have been resolved as the side effects wore off. So far, there are no reports of blood clots among the 525,000 people that have already been vaccinated,” said Dr Tabu in Nairobi on April 12, 2021.

Further afield, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is running into regulatory trouble as reports of blood clotting incidents continue to hit the headlines.

This scenario could provide a slippery slope for efforts to secure public confidence in the vaccine among Kenyans.    

The East African state is also involved in negotiations with Johnson and Johnson for an unspecified number of doses.

On April 12, 2021,the Africa Union announced plans to buy a total of 440 million doses of the one-shot Johnson and Johnson jab.

The news comes on the back of Rwanda’s announcement of a joint initiative with Moderna to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines.

Rwandese head of state Paul Kagame made the announcement during a virtual conference that played host to African heads of state, WHO, CDC and Unicef representatives.

Kenya was not represented at the meeting.

Mr Kagame said the move was necessitated by the need to take on the vaccine shortage problem on the continent head-on.

“We have to take the initiative and come up with solutions to the current problem of an unreliable supply chain. This means we should develop the capacity to manufacture the vaccines ourselves,”said President Kagame.

Answering question posed on the reason for Kenya’s delay in getting into vaccine manufacturing, Dr Tabu said the country’s vaccine research and development infrastructure was ahead of Rwanda’s.

He said Kenya had already started animal vaccines, as opposed to Rwanda which had begun negotiations with Moderna to manufacture the Covid-19 vaccine.

We have the Kenya Veterinary Vaccines Production Institute (KEVEVAPI), which has been producing effective animal vaccines for a number of years. It is only a matter of time before we start making our own Covid-19 vaccines, said Dr Tabu.

He said part of the human clinical trials for the Astra Zeneca vaccine were carried out in the country, adding that its research capacity was advanced compared to Rwanda’s.

Dr Tabu said the country needed to reach an agreement with a vaccine manufacturer for technology transfer.

He added that the process was not however simple as it involved quality management and the meeting internationally accepted standards of production.

These milestones, he said, must be met before the vaccines could be granted the much needed approval by bodies like the WHO, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and others.

“Once we agree with the manufacturer over technology transfer for vaccine manufacture, we then have to ensure that we put in place the quality management as well as internationally accepted and certified production standards. It is not an overnight process. When all these requirements are fulfilled, then we can begin to manufacture the vaccines,” said Dr Tabu.

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