22 million Ugandans to miss Coronvirus vaccine

Ugandans in the age bracket of 0 to 17 years will not get the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine jabs due to limited data on their safety and efficacy, government scientists have revealed. AstraZeneca vaccine, the main serum that government is looking at to inoculate the population, is recommended for people 18 years and above, according to the head of the Immunization Program at the Ministry of Health, Dr Alfred Driwale. Uganda National Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) data indicates that 55 per cent of the population (22.8 million) are between 0 and 17 years of age, and with the regulatory restriction, they will not be eligible to receive the injections. Uganda had a population of 41.6 million as of July 2020, according to Ubos. The age limit means earlier recommendation from scientists that 80 per cent of the population may need to be immunized against coronavirus to reach herd immunity will not be achieved. Herd immunity is that long-promised goal at which the pandemic slows to a halt to allow for return to normalcy because the virus has run out of people to infect. Prof Nelson Sewankambo, a member of the committee which government has recently constituted to advise on access and deployment of COVID-19 vaccine, said they lack safety and efficacy data to vaccinate children. “The clinical trials [for the vaccines] didn’t include children. [So] we are not sure whether they will be affected negatively if they get the vaccine. So we have to proceed cautiously,” he told Daily Monitor yesterday. Children are some of the main spreaders of the coronavirus, according to Dr Henry Kajumbula, the head of infection prevention and control in the team of scientists advising government on Covid-19. This means vaccinating them is central in achieving herd immunity. Covid-19 vaccines have been proven by scientists to be effective in curbing the spread of the virus and protecting recipients from developing severe illness. What next? According to Prof Sewankambo, however, efforts are being doubled to avail the vaccine for children in the near future. “The world doesn’t have the vaccine for children. But work is in progress. There are studies going on to see whether slightly older children can get the vaccines,” he told Daily Monitor yesterday. Oxford University and AstraZeneca announced two weeks ago that they are going to enroll 300 children for a trial to assess whether the jab produces a strong immune response. But the trial and approval process by regulators such as World Health Organization may take some months. The government is expecting to acquire about 32 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine through direct purchase from Serum Institute of India and Covax facility, according to information from the Ministry of Health. Covax facility is a global initiative that brings together governments, manufacturers and global health organizations. Other vaccines that the country is also considering to acquire through donations and direct purchase from Pfizer, Moderna and those from China and Russia are recommended for people 16 years and above, according to information from World Health Organization (WHO). This also means a huge number of people (0 to 15 years of age) will not be eligible.

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