Immunization Coordinator says COVID-19 vaccine should not be feared

Leonard Tabilip, Coordinator of the National Immunization Program

With the development of COVID-19 vaccines and Marshall Islands becoming the first Pacific island nation to begin COVID-19 vaccinations, some self-proclaimed medical experts on Facebook are spreading misinformation causing fear.

Leonard Tabilip, Coordinator of the National Immunization Program says all vaccines have side effects, fever being the most common.

He says people with cerebral malaria in their blood could collapse upon taking the vaccine, due to the conditions of the disease it is very rare for someone to suffer from adverse side effects from vaccines.

Mr. Tabilip encourages people not to spread false beliefs about vaccines being unsafe. He says if anyone thinks they know something about the vaccine the authorities don’t know, they should go to the Ministry of health and explain their claims, instead of causing unnecessary panic.

Like all vaccines, Tabilip says they will be free of charge and it is likely there will be two dosages at a four-week interval as it takes 10 days to build immunity. After the second dose, people should reach 100% immunity. Tabilip says there is no law in Vanuatu forcing people to take the vaccine, however if someone doesn’t take it and dies, it is their own problem.

He says should a group of people refuse the vaccine, they will be sheltered in what he says is ‘herd immunity’. This means they may not get the disease being surrounded by vaccinated people, however if one of them contracts the virus somehow, it will only be spread amongst other non- vaccinated people.

The Coordinator says at the moment, they are in the preparation stage to get everyone ready to receive the vaccine. He says planning wise and there will be a coordination meeting next Wednesday, which will include the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

Tabilip says all nurses have to be trained to perform these vaccinations and there must be proper monitoring and surveillance in place while this is all happening because there is no room for error.

He mentions currently the two most likely vaccines for Vanuatu will either be the Indian Covax, produced by Bharat Biotec and the AZD1222 developed by the Oxford University in England.

He says they are waiting on the WHO to advise and approve a suitable vaccine. Tabilip says the effectivity usually has to be 50% or more in order for the vaccine to be approved. To add on, they also need to go through three phases of testing, the two mentioned above have already gone through the three phases and are being rolled out in a few countries. He says this is the case with all vaccines approved by the WHO.

The Coordinator admits that vaccines are expensive especially this type of vaccine, however he says Australia is already showing interest in helping Vanuatu fund this vaccination program.

In terms of who gets it first, Tabilip believes the three provinces which should first be targeted are SHEFA, SANMA and TAFEA since they have international points of entry. He says it should take approximately five weeks to vaccinate the whole nation.

Tabilip says other routine vaccines such as rotavirus for diarrhea, numacocol for flu, meningitis and pneumonia (for kids 0-5 years old), and HPV for cervical cancer should be available by next month as they will also be discussed in next Wednesday’s meeting.

He mentions other diseases which were eradicated by vaccines such as the Spanish flu, polio and cholera. Vanuatu’s last case of polio was in 1986 and since then WHO has certified the country polio free.

The Coordinator of the National Immunization Program says 50 solar fridges have arrived from Denmark and 14 have already been sent out to the dispensaries in the outer islands for vaccine storage.

The rest will be distributed throughout this year. He says there are 30 more on the way. These fridges are specifically designed for medical storage, in accordance with WHO standards.

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