Answers to all your most burning questions
I have been observing a general reluctance among many people in Bangladesh in regards to getting the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine made by Serum Institute of India (COVISHIELD).
I have been answering a lot of questions and queries related to this and Covid vaccination in general. Here is a list:
I have had Covid already, so I don't need to get vaccinated
Getting Covid only provides immunity for 3-6 months at best. Even then, if you get exposed to the virus, you may act as a carrier and spread it to other people. After this period you may very well get re-infected with severe disease. The current recommendation is to get vaccinated at least 28 days after you tested positive for Covid or started showing Covid symptoms. It is completely safe to do so.
Why should I take a vaccine made in India of all countries? I don’t trust that country or their intentions or the intentions of our government. It is surely a third-class quality unsafe vaccine which India is administering to Bangladeshis to test it, making us guinea pigs in the process
The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine has been developed by the leading scientists in the world. It has been approved by the MHRA (UK regulatory body) for use in the UK in December ’20 and the European Medicines Agency shortly thereafter for use across the region.
Hundreds of thousands of British and Europeans have been vaccinated with this since then. Serum Institute of India (SII) (a private company) has been making vaccines for the world since 1966. They are currently the largest vaccine producers in the world with an impeccable reputation and track record.
The probability that Bangladeshis have taken their vaccines directly or indirectly through the GAVI facility for decades now is very high, as have populations across the globe. AstraZeneca partnered up with SII with the knowledge that sharing the vaccine-making formula developed by Oxford University and their scientists would ensure low production costs by SII and therefore the ability to capture the middle-income/low-middle-income country markets.
SII did not make the generic form of the vaccine, they are simply manufacturing from Oxford’s formula. SII are selling this same vaccine to Brazil and Morocco as well for the time being.
I know India is not the friend it appears to be, but politics and monopolistic moves by a local pharmaceutical company aside, this has been a very good and timely move by the government of Bangladesh on scientific reasoning alone.
In a world of Covid vaccine inequity, where a handful of rich countries have stockpiled more than 60% of the world’s supplies, we need to do what we need to do.
India is not giving us the Oxford vaccine, they have actually sent us the Bharat Biotech (Indian Government made) one
I have reliable contacts at the upper most echelons of the Health Ministry. I am not denying the blatant corruption within that ministry but facts should not be defaced out of political vengeance. Not a single dose of Bharat Biotech vaccine has entered Bangladesh through official channels, not even the 20 million doses sent as a gift by the Indian government.
Like millions of proud Bangladeshis, any “gift” from India doesn’t sit well with me but we must welcome this in the context of broader national interest. The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine vials are clearly labelled “COVISHIELD” with “SII” at the top.
This vaccine will result in a lot of side effects. It kills people. I won’t take it
Hundreds of thousands of people have been inoculated by the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine across Europe, Africa, and India. Not a single case of a serious side-effect has been reported thus far.
Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which are mRNA vaccines, the Oxford one is a more conventional one using genetic code in the form of a coronavirus spike protein DNA. Our population has been taking similar vaccines for decades.
Also, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine does not contain polyethylene glycol (PEG) which is a known allergen widely present in most medicines and many vaccines. The Pfizer and Moderna ones have resulted in some side effects and unexplained deaths in a very small number of recipients in American and European populations which could be due to its structure.
The cause of death however could be due to a range of underlying health conditions as well as advanced age in those recipients, and in no way should the safety of those vaccines be underplayed.
Every pharmacological product has some degree of side effect, but please expect nothing more than a bit of pain at the injection site, body ache, and a mild fever, which otherwise commonly happens with other vaccines like flu vaccine/ hepatitis vaccine/ tetanus vaccine etc.
An added advantage is this vaccine can be safely stored in our regular refrigerators at temperatures between 2 to 8 degree C, thereby reducing the possibility of denaturation due to temperature issues.
Can everyone take it?
Current recommendations are for people aged 18 years and over to receive it, including the elderly. Absolute contraindication is for pregnant and breastfeeding women, those with a history of severe allergic reaction to Covid vaccines, and very sick individuals.
The Oxford AstraZeneca (COVISHIELD) vaccine is not very effective
Studies have shown its efficacy to be between 62% - 76% but due to a dosing issue by Oxford scientists, the exact efficacy could very well be higher. Nonetheless, in the midst of a pandemic, any vaccine over 60% efficacy is considered to be a necessity and it is for this reason that British and European authorities have approved its emergency use. Even the flu vaccine has a 50-55 % efficacy at best.
European authorities do not recommend it for people over 65 years
Yes, this was based on very early data from Oxford. However, the UK authorities insist on using it in that age group as well, based on newer data which is coming out from the UK, Brazil, and South Africa.
My parents are elderly and on medication for diabetes/hypertension/asthma/kidney disease/ heart disease/cancer. Can it be given to people with autoimmune conditions?
Currently the authorities in the UK have stated that being on medication for these conditions is not a contraindication and neither is having an autoimmune condition. However, it is best to see whether the people with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, kidney disease, and even cancer are in a stable clinical condition at the time of vaccination.
The vaccination centres are well equipped to ensure these things. In principle, a person who is running a fever should disclose this to the vaccinating personnel and may be advised to come back another day.
Remember, please get vaccinated to help yourself, your family, and the nation as a whole. After the first dose, do not think you are invincible. Continue wearing a mask in public and sanitizing your hands.
After the first dose, it takes three weeks to develop some immunity with current data suggesting a protection of 70 % or so. Only after you complete the two doses ( 4-12 weeks apart) will you get long term protection from Covid.
For how long? Still early to predict but don’t worry about that now. Booster doses can be taken if new recommendations suggest so, just like other vaccines. Taking the COVISHIELD will also reduce the spread of the vaccine from your body to others as well.
It is not very useful against the South African variant of the virus
So what? You don’t live in South Africa. Don’t worry about that either for the time being.
But, but …
No more buts. Get yourself and your family members registered today at https://surokkha.gov.bd.
I am not a mouthpiece for any company or political party or the government.
My intention as a clinician and public health researcher is to disseminate accurate information so as to facilitate a scientific and logical decision making process. The rest is up to you.
I am alarmed at the low level of interest in taking the vaccine so far. Please do get in touch with me if you have more queries. I will share my personal experience of getting the COVISHIELD as soon as I get it In'Sha'Allah. May Allah protect our country.
Dr Naveed Ahmed is Research Coordinator, Pcp, Diabetic Association Of Bangladesh, Senior Medical Officer, Department Of Internal Medicine, Birdem General Hospital, and Lecturer Of Msc, Global Health Ncd Module, University College London, UK.