The government has downplayed concern over reports of adverse reactions and death among recipients of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in foreign countries.
Uganda embarked on immunising its citizens, starting with frontline health workers, on Wednesday after receiving 964,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through donations.
At least nine countries across the world including Denmark, Norway, and Iceland have been reported by European Medicines Agency (EMA) and news agencies to have suspended inoculation of their population using the AstraZeneca vaccine over safety.
Prof David Sserwadda, the government chief scientific advisor on Covid-19 vaccine access and rollout, told Sunday Monitor that there is still no indication that the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is linked to an increased risk of blood clots among recipients of the jabs as feared elsewhere.
"As a country, we are responding according to the World Health Organisation statement regarding the matter. There is an ongoing investigation on whether the clots and death were a coincidence or related to the vaccine. Usually, there is what we call cause and effect. People get blood clots all the time, even when they are not vaccinated," he said.
Prof Sserwadda, however, said the reported side effects are not common when compared with more than 300 million doses so far administered globally.
He said side effects are usual occurrences with drugs and that the only solution is to continue following up and reporting cases of serious reaction among vaccine recipients to inform decisions.
"In those European countries, there are many old people. And this stage is associated with many health complications. So it is possible that the clots could have been caused by other conditions," Prof Sserwadda reasoned.
Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, said on Twitter on Friday that there is an established system for follow-up in case a vaccine recipient suffers adverse reactions.
"There is a hotline for after events following immunisation. There's someone ready to respond to all queries. Secondly, if it turns out to be a serious adverse event following immunisation then a team is deployed to conduct a detailed investigation. Toll-free 0800 101 999 and Whatsapp 0791 415 555," he tweeted on Friday.
The Health Minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, said in a March 9 statement that recipients are supposed to stay at the vaccination point for 30 minutes for observation. Covid-19 vaccination is happening at selected health facilities in districts across the country.
The head of public health services at Kampala Capital City Authority, Dr Daniel Okello, told this newspaper that the recipients stay for the said time so that they can get immediate help in case of adverse reaction.
The information from the ministry, however, indicates that pain at the injection site, irritation, fever and muscle ache are some of the common side effects after receiving the jab but that they resolve on their own.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has 63 per cent efficacy at stopping Covid-19 illness, a figure which is below vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna which have an efficacy of 94 and 95 per cent, respectively.
What caused suspension in other countries?
Denmark, Norway and Iceland temporarily suspended the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine following reports of blood clots in people who received the vaccine, including one case where a person died, according to a Thursday statement by EMA.
Denmark health agency was quoted by the Guardian to have said it was suspending AstraZeneca vaccinations for two weeks because a 60-year-old woman who was given a shot from the same batch as used in Austria had formed a blood clot and subsequently died.
"[We need] to respond promptly and carefully when we have knowledge of possible serious side-effects. We need to clarify this before we can continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine. [We need] broad documentation proving that the vaccine is both safe and effective. We have not terminated the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, we are just pausing its use," Søren Brostrøm, the director of Denmark health agency, was quoted by the Guardian to have said.
Italy and Austria also stopped using certain batches of the drug as a precautionary measure, according to a Thursday report by the BBC.
Suspension in Italy was reportedly triggered by the death of two Italians after receiving the vaccine, an unnamed source told Reuters news agency.
Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg have also suspended the use of the same batch of AstraZeneca vaccine as Austria, according to BBC. The news agency reported that Romania also suspended use of 4,200 doses from the same batch of vaccines as Italy.
Last month, South Africa suspended the use of the same vaccine, following a report that it was not effective in protecting people from strains of the coronavirus in the country.