— but concerns linger over side-effects, adverse effects of vaccines, survey finds
SOME 668 frontline health workers received the first dose of the Oxford-Astrazeneca COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday and Friday last week, and while many of them reported feeling some side effects, there have been no adverse reactions reported.
Head of Medical Services at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) and Cardiologist, Dr. Mahendra Carpen, was one of the 318 health workers who took the vaccine on Thursday, the very first day it was made available in Guyana.
After taking the vaccine, he reported that he was able to return to his usual busy schedule, even performing surgical procedures and consulting with a number of patients.
“I still have feelings in my fingers,” he half-joked, while flexing his fingers. “I can still smell, I can still see out of both eyes; I don’t have any of the known side effects and I don’t feel any different today than I felt [the day before].”
In the cardiology unit at the GPHC, registered nurse Jeanel Lewis was one who took her vaccine on Friday. On that day, a total of 350 persons were vaccinated.
Lewis said that she experienced nausea, which is one of the common side effects of taking vaccines in general, not just these COVID-19 vaccines. Later, she experienced a headache and some dizziness and nausea, and subsequently, a fever.
“These are all normal side effects when taking a vaccine,” she wrote in a Facebook post. Eventually, she said, “24 hours after being vaccinated, all side effects have subsided and I’m (feeling) 100 per cent.”
Meanwhile, Director of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) at the GPHC Dr Zulfikar Bux was also another person who received the ‘jab’ (the COVID-19 vaccine), last week. He related that he felt some soreness in his arm, a mild headache and later, body aches and some fatigue, but, he was not worried.
“Knowing what I knew, I realised that my symptoms were a sign that my body was mounting an immune response to the vaccine and therefore, I am developing immunity against COVID-19,” he highlighted.
Recently, a COVID-19 Vaccination Hesitancy survey was conducted by the Ministry of Health in partnership with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). The survey consists of 819 persons in total drawn from the general population across all 10 administrative regions as well as key populations of persons older than 60 years old, health workers, social workers and adolescents.
Importantly, this survey found that there was a widespread belief that vaccines can protect from serious diseases. In fact, the survey stated that 86.8 per cent of the respondents believed that vaccines could protect them from serious diseases. But, the survey stated that it does not provide evidence of widespread support for the COVID-19 vaccine and that many persons were concerned over the potential side effects of the vaccines.
According to the data, 60.2 per cent of the general sample either agreed or strongly agreed that it was important for everyone to get the COVID-19 vaccine once available, while 68.0 per cent of respondents from the general sample also said that they would take the COVID-19 vaccine.
“This can be interpreted as moderate support among the population for the COVID-19 vaccines,” the survey said.
However, only 46.0 per cent of respondents from the 60-years-or-older age group were of the view that everyone needs to get the COVID-19 vaccine once it is available; the necessity of taking the vaccine was recorded in 50.9 per cent (or just about half) of the adolescent group and 56.0 per cent of the health workers’ group
Interestingly, as reported in the survey, only 57.4 per cent of health workers expressed willingness to take the COVID-19 vaccine, and only 45.8 per cent of respondents 60 years or older demonstrated any willingness to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Among adolescents, 61.1 per cent of respondents voiced their willingness to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
All of the groups stated that they had little information on COVID-19. In fact, the lowest number of persons who stated that they had enough information on the vaccine was the health workers. Only 16 per cent of the health workers felt they had enough information on the COVID-19 vaccine.
“A considerably large number of respondents indicated that they have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine,” the survey stated, adding: “The main barrier to the uptake of the COVID-19 Vaccine was not related to its efficacy, but to the potential side effects of the vaccine.”
The analysis revealed that as high as 77.3 per cent of respondents from the general sample mentioned that they have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine. These concerns were largely about the potential side effects or adverse effects of the vaccine.
Indeed, during the vaccination exercise on Thursday, the Guyana Chronicle was informed that there were few healthcare workers who were eligible to receive the vaccine but did not take this first dose. Many of them had concerns over the short time in which these vaccines were developed, side effects, how long immunity would last and generally, whether the vaccines were safe.
These concerns are not unique to Guyana. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) noted that vaccine hesitancy — which is a delay in the acceptance or outright refusal of vaccines despite the availability of vaccination services — as a threat to global public health.
This sense of hesitancy, the WHO reported, may be driven by complacency, lack of confidence, fear and misinformation.
Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony has consistently emphasised that vaccination will not be mandatory, but encouraged persons to get vaccinated, since it will help to protect individuals from the virus.
On Thursday, he related that the ministry will engage in a risk-communication strategy to help dispel misinformation and help to ease the hesitancy identified through the survey.
It must be noted that the hesitancy survey was published on January 25. This means that the persons were surveyed weeks before Guyana was even aware which of the vaccines it would eventually receive.
Now, Guyana has received its first batch of vaccines — the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine — from Barbados. This vaccine, reportedly, has an efficacy of 62 per cent. However, it is also reportedly 90 per cent efficacious with a lower dose than the required two doses.
BENEFITS vs POTENTIAL RISKS
Dr. Carpen noted that healthcare workers have “real concerns over these vaccines” which is understandable, since COVID-19 and the medical approaches to the disease have only been around for a short while. He, however, emphasised that the benefits of being vaccinated- i.e., gaining protection from COVID-19- outweighs any potential risks, in his estimation.
And he believed that many health workers have assessed the benefits and the risks too. Before the vaccination exercise commenced on Thursday, he highlighted that the Health Ministry had asked departments within the GPHC to submit lists of those persons who wanted to take the vaccine. Those lists, he said, had very few people.
“But, guess what, as soon as the vaccine got here and people started taking it, the line to get the vaccine was far more excessive than the list that was submitted,” Dr. Carpen said, adding: “I have confidence that they will look at the evidence and they will see that the benefits are far more than the risks.”