Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh says the phase one rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which arrived in TT on Tuesday, will begin on Tuesday, April 6.
Deyalsingh was speaking at the Ministry of Health’s press conference on Wednesday.
Both Deyalsingh and the Prime Minister will receive the vaccine on April 6.
Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Roshan Parasram said the vaccines arrived safely and were kept between 2.1 and 2.3 degrees Celsius throughout the journey to the C40 storage facility in Chaguaramas.
The vaccines will expire on May 31, he said, which gives the ministry eight weeks from the date of arrival from the start of use to the end of use of the second dose.
“Initially, the (AstraZeneca) manufacturer had said 21-28 days for the second dose (to be administered), which we can achieve with this particular dose,” he said. “However, the new World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation is eight-12 weeks.”
Parasram said when the manufacturer first made that recommendation, there were countries that wanted the first dose given to a larger portion of their population, holding the second dose back a little while.
In doing so, they realised that the efficacy was improved by holding out on the second dose for eight-12 weeks. As a result, the WHO changed its recommendation.
“What we will be doing is using the first half of the 33,000 vaccines, which is 16,000, and determining if and when we are getting that second supply.”
He said once the ministry has confirmation of the receipt of the second tranche of vaccines, it will decide whether to hold the remaining 16,000 for the second dose or move forward with the 33,000 in the first instance and wait to give the second dose when the second tranche comes in. That decision will be made in the coming weeks.
Parasram said there is no information available yet on the interchangeability of the AstraZeneca vaccine and other vaccines like the Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson. He said it is currently recommended that the same product should be used for both doses, but this may be updated as further information becomes available.
He said the WHO, however, has indicated interchangeability in manufacturing sites.
“We have gotten from South Korean manufacturing site. If we get the second dose from the Indian manufacturing site, there will be no issue at all.”
He said a minimal interval of 14 days should be taken between the AstraZeneca vaccine and any other vaccines, such as the seasonal flu vaccine.
People below 18, who are pregnant or breastfeeding, who have a history of anaphylactic (shock) reactions to any component of the vaccine will not be eligible for vaccination. People who have an anaphylactic reaction after the first dose will not receive a second. He said this would be determined at the clinical assessment phase.
Healthcare workers will be vaccinated in phase one, beginning Tuesday. Deyalsingh said they will be contacted by their respective regional health authorities (RHAs) about their vaccinations.
He said the ministry is aiming to vaccinate 1,000 people a day at 21 vaccination sites.
“The first 16,000 can be done in the first two and a half weeks.”
An appointment system will be made public in the coming days with contact information for vaccination sites for members of the public who are not in non-communicable disease (NCD) clinics but who quality for vaccination by age or on account of NCDs. He said there would be a strict appointment system in the first instance.
Deyalsingh said each recipient will be monitored for 30 minutes after vaccination to ensure they do not suffer from any adverse reactions. On the basis of data collected in the first instance, the ministry will decide when it can begin mass vaccinations in communities and homes.
“We want to collect as much information (as possible) on how anaphylaxis, however rare, can be managed.”
He said local government members and MPs will be vaccinated in phase two, along with essential frontline workers such as police, the defence force, and prison officers.