11/05/2024

Ministry of Health and Medical Services Responds to News Article by the Fiji Times on the AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine

The Ministry of Health and Medical Services is aware that AstraZeneca has recently announced that it has withdrawn its COVID-19 vaccine worldwide citing a surplus of available updated vaccines that target new variants of the virus. There has been a drop in demand for the AstraZeneca vaccine as it is less effective than newer vaccines against the latest variants.

The statement by the Fiji Times (11/05/24) that this vaccine was banned in Australia needs correcting. The Australian Government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration stated on April 24th, 2024, that AstraZeneca had voluntarily cancelled the vaccine from the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) and the “cancellation of this vaccine from the ARTG was a business decision of the company, due to no current or anticipated future demand for the vaccine, and follows similar business decisions made overseas”. The Ministry urges vigilance by the media in using credible sources of information for their news reports.

The AstraZeneca vaccine (known as Vaxzevria or Covishield) was used in Fiji from March 2021 to February 2022, and its rapid rollout during the Delta outbreak in 2021 saved many lives. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been available in Fiji since February 2022, as stocks had depleted, and the Ministry had acquired the Moderna and then Pfizer vaccines, which were more effective against the Omicron variant.

To be clear, a new side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine has not been discovered. The very rare but serious side effect of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), a rare blood clotting disorder, is not a new risk. It was identified by international health authorities in 2021 and communicated to the Fijian public by the Ministry in March 2021, before the start of Fiji’s COVID-19 Delta Variant outbreak. This very rare side effect was estimated to affect 2-3 in every 100,000 people and occurred between 4 and 42 days of receiving the first dose of the vaccine. At the time, the risk of becoming infected with the virus and dying was much higher than this rare side effect from the vaccine. During the Delta outbreak people that were not vaccinated were dying from COVID-19 at rates more than 10 times higher than those that were fully vaccinated. Sadly, many who chose not to vaccinate were influenced by the misinformation and disinformation being spread about COVID-19 vaccines.

By the end of 2021, 698 people had died from COVID-19 in Fiji, there is no doubt that many more would have died without the AstraZeneca vaccine.
As it has done in the past, the Ministry will continue to ensure that the latest in medications including vaccines are made available to the population, and any inherent risk associated with such medications and vaccines are communicated well to the public.

Last Updated on 1 month by Publishing Team

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