TThey are the nations that have presented themselves as shining examples of coronavirus management. In Australia, New Zealand, and Taiwan, daily Covid infections are in the single digits and outbreaks are quickly suppressed.
But there is one area in which these nations lag far behind the rest: vaccine launch. Countries with some of the most enviable health care systems in the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, will not begin vaccine rollout until the end of February. or later.
The delay is deliberate. The millions of people already being vaccinated against Covid-19 will provide valuable data to those countries that, for various reasons, have decided to wait for more information on the vaccine, its efficacy and side effects before implementing it in vulnerable populations and the public. .
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Thursday that Australia was proud to be part of this group of “the most successful countries in the world in dealing with” Covid-19, and that it would not be pressured to advance the launch. .
‘Many checks and re-examinations’
An important factor in accelerated deployment in some countries is the severity of their situations. The United States recorded a record 3,900 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, with the numbers rising in nearly every state. On Thursday, the death toll in the UK rose 1,162, its second-highest rise since the pandemic began. The urgency of the vaccine in those countries is palpable, with hospitals and morgues struggling to manage the death toll, and health workers who were burning Months ago.
By comparison, most Australian states and territories have not had local cases of the virus for months, while there has been no community transmission in New Zealand since November 18.
Clinical Pharmacology Professor Jennifer Martin is a physician in Australia who is also a member of the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee of PHARMAC, the sole purchaser of pharmaceuticals in New Zealand. He said people often asked him about the timing of the pitch.
“The reason it’s such a lengthy approval process in Australia and New Zealand is because there are a lot of checks and re-examinations of the statistics, because if we make a mistake, it will become a large-scale mistake by the time the drug is spread. to a large population, ”Martin said.
“It’s not that uncommon for the regulator to look at the data and say, ‘Well, it looks good in terms of how it works on Europeans, but we are quite concerned about how this could affect indigenous peoples and the Asian population. They seem to respond differently too. ‘
“Australia and New Zealand are saying; ‘Why would you put people at risk when if you wait a little longer, you can get more information?’ “
In fact, regulators are already learning from those who have been vaccinated. On Wednesday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. published data on allergic reactions to the Pfizer / BioNTech mRNA vaccine Seen in the United States between December 14 and 23.
That data will prove useful for countries like South Korea, which has ordered enough doses of vaccines to inoculate the country’s 52 million people, but is delaying the launch while observing potential side effects elsewhere. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the New Zealand Ministry of Health said regulators were waiting “to take into account the assessments of trusted regulators, such as in Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe, Canada and the United States.”
‘These people are helping us’
University of Sydney Vaccine and Infectious Disease Expert Professor Robert Booy, He said the Pfizer / BioNtech mRNA vaccine, which is being released for the first time in many countries, has “five incredible advantages” over other types of vaccines.
“MRNA vaccines can be developed quickly, they are cheap, they are effective, they appear safe, and they can be adjusted by placing a slightly different antigen if the virus changes its spots,” he said. “But the main concern is that we have never used this type of vaccine before, so we have to do everything possible to do the surveillance to see that it is well tolerated.”
Booy said there was always a country that needed to be the first to implement any drug or medical device, and that they had not skipped steps, such as conducting phase three clinical trials. This meant the vaccines were most likely safe, he said, but some countries, forced to choose between exponential deaths and overwhelmed health systems, or launch a vaccine before they had time to analyze the full results, had made the logical decision to issue the vaccine. vaccine. , starting with vulnerable populations.
Even Japan, which reported a record 2,447 new cases on Thursday and declared a state of emergency in Tokyo, is not rushing implementation. Japanese media have reported that vaccinations will not begin until the end of February, with the first going to about 10,000 front-line healthcare workers. Those 65 and older, nursing home workers and people with underlying health problems will follow in March.
First, there is a particular need to build public trust and confidence in the Covid-19 vaccine in Japan. While Japan does not have an anti-vaccination movement comparable to that of the UK and the US, there is a relatively high level of hesitancy to the vaccine.
There are other benefits for countries that are constantly moving with a deployment. Health authorities will have more time to sort out the logistics of transporting vaccines, some of which require cold chain storage, through vast landscapes including deserts, forests and scrublands. Technology can be established to track doses throughout the supply chain and monitor waste. There is more time to train staff to administer the vaccine and conduct education and safety campaigns to ensure public confidence.
Martin said that people living in those countries who wait for more data before approving and distributing the vaccine should feel gratitude towards those who receive it in places like China, the United States and the United Kingdom.
“These people are helping us get data, in the same way as any patient who is in a clinical trial, and that will really benefit everyone,” he said. But at the end of the day when I talk to my colleagues in these places like the UK they say they are so desperate for the vaccine that they would take it in the eye if they had to.
“They are so stressed, they are on the front line, they are worried about catching it and spreading it. So they are incredibly grateful to be among the first. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism