Benefits outweigh risks: MOH and WHO on AstraZeneca vaccine

Fiji will continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine for all eligible individuals, despite certain countries including Australia recommending that it be used for specific age groups.

On Thursday this week, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) revised its stance on the AstraZeneca vaccine, after severe but rare side effects were reported in individuals aged between 50 and 59 years. The ATAGI recommended that the AstraZeneca vaccine is reserved for those aged 60 and above and that Pfizer is administered to those aged 16 to 59 years.

“The recommendation is revised due to a higher risk and observed severity of thrombosis and thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) related to the use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine observed in Australia in the 50-59 year old age group than reported internationally and initially estimated in Australia,” the ATAGI said.

In the same statement, the ATAGI recommended its continued use for individuals who did not experience any side effects after receiving their first dose, noting that: “people of any age without contraindications who have had their first dose of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca without any serious adverse events should receive a second dose of the same vaccine.”

Fijian authorities and the World Health Organisation echoed the same stand in a joint press release today.

In the statement, Fiji’s Ministry of Health and the WHO said national governments including Fiji make their own decisions based on their own experiences and after weighing risks.

In Fiji’s case, they maintained that the benefits outweigh the risks pointing to the absence of adverse events in close to 260,000 people who have been administered at least the first dose of the vaccine. Also in Fiji’s case, and based on daily case numbers, they said the risks of suffering severe side effects of the vaccine are rare compared to the increased chances of someone contracting the virus, the severity of the disease and so to the chances of dying if they are not vaccinated.

To date, no confirmed cases of serious adverse events following immunization have been detected in Fiji despite 256018 individuals being given one dose (44% of the adult population) and 17990 individuals having had two doses to date, the MOH and WHO said.

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