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Amid concerns, Ministry of Health says Belize has options with Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

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covid19 test

Posted: Tuesday, February 9, 2021. 2:27 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: As countries in Europe and South Africa are stepping back from vaccinating patients with the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, some in Belize want to know if it will work as advertised, considering reports that it does not work well enough against the South African variant of the virus, and that persons aged 55 and over in some European countries will not be administered the vaccine.

It has been pointed out that Belize has a sizable population of aging persons, particularly ex-pats, who want to be vaccinated and have varying health problems, not to mention those wishing to travel here. Most of the vaccines being created and administered need two-shot doses to be effective, so will the vaccine need to be boosted down the road? Is it good enough?

Acting Director of Health Services, Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa, told Channel 7 News on Monday that Belize will be getting 30 percent of its vaccine capacity from the COVAX facility, which will most likely be the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine pending World Health Organization (WHO) approval. She added, “the recent studies didn’t show that it was totally ineffective against the South African variant but it does state that it may have less efficacy towards the South African variant.”

So Belize goes ahead with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine when it gets here, but also is pursuing bilateral agreements to obtain 40 percent more vaccine capacity, likely of other brands of the vaccine. And Dr. Diaz-Musa noted that the vaccine is more effective against the original strain of COVID-19, its UK variant, and other lesser-known variants.

Belize, said Dr. Diaz-Musa, does not have the facilities for cold chain storage of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at less than 70 degrees Celsius, though Belize is looking into obtaining the former.

As noted on Friday, Minister of Health and Wellness Michel Chebat announced that 81,697 vaccines of so far unknown brand will be obtained through the African Medical Supplies Platform, in an offer made to CARICOM countries through the CARICOM secretariat.

And through the Ambassador of Panama to Belize, Her Excellency Marta Boza, Belize will be accepting 20,000 vaccine doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine which has 92 percent coverage and was among the first vaccines to be created.

The Minister also announced that as in other countries, health workers will be vaccinated first, followed by elderly persons and those with risk factors for COVID-19. The vaccination roadmap created by the Ministry will be publicly released.

Director Diaz-Musa says that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is reported to be between 75 to 82 percent effective after the second dose, better than vaccines for regular influenza which range between 60 and 70 percent which is good enough; more to the point, it is more accessible for Belize and its regional fellows.

CNN reports that officials in South Africa temporarily paused its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a study found that it offered reduced protection from the homegrown variant of the virus first identified there against mild and moderate COVID-19 compared to the original strain; the vaccine’s efficacy against severe COVID-19, hospitalization, and death were not assessed.

CNN earlier reported that a slew of European nations will not give the vaccine to persons over 65, citing lack of data. Denmark and Norway on Thursday joined Belgium in recommending not administering the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to people over the age of 55, following similar decisions in France, Germany, Austria and Sweden which restricted its use for people under 65, while Switzerland declined to authorize the vaccine for any age group, saying data submitted by AstraZeneca were “not yet sufficient to permit authorization” of the vaccine.

An AstraZeneca spokesperson pointed out last week that the vaccine has conditional marketing authorization or emergency use approval in close to 50 countries, spanning 4 continents.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) – the EU’s regulator — has approved the vaccine without an age restriction. In a statement made when granting conditional marketing authorization of the vaccine, the EMA said that in spite of a lack of data, protection was expected in older adults.

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