STATEMENT BY HONOURABLE CARVIN MALONE
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
DURING THE FIFTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
ON THURSDAY 31ST DECEMBER, 2020
AT THE SAVE
ROAD TOWN, TORTOLA
COVID-19 VACCINATION AND NEW UK STRAIN
Mister Speaker, yesterday on 30th December 2020 the United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency for supply in the United Kingdom approved AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford/Vaccitechs Covid-19 vaccine candidate AZD1222. A number of Governments around the world including the Virgin Islands Government have been waiting patiently for the UK regulator to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine given its efficacy and ease of incorporation into existing immunization program infrastructure and the fact that it does not require special considerations for storage, or administration.
This approval was based on independent advice from the Commission on Human Medicines and a review of Phase II data on safety and efficacy. With this announcement, distribution of vaccine within the UK will start early in the new year and it is expected that tentatively vaccine will begin to be available in the Territory sometime in February 2021. The UK Government has 100 million doses in total and AstraZeneca is working closely with Public Health England and the National Health Services England to support the deployment of vaccine across the UK and its territories. The Ministry of Health will therefore work closely with Public Health England, CARPHA and PAHO/WHO to support a comprehensive program in the Territory involving local stakeholders to make the vaccine available on a voluntary basis to residents.
Minister Speaker, the AstraZeneca vaccine is recommended to be given in two separate doses with an interval of four to twelve weeks between doses. The regimen has been shown to be effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19, with no severe cases, or hospitalizations more than 14 days after the second dose. The AstraZeneca, vaccine was co-invented by the University of Oxford and its associated company, Vaccitech and made available at cost. Research studies have shown it to be 70.4% efficacious in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 as well as severe disease, or hospitalization with a 90% efficacy in a subgroup receiving a half dose followed by a full dose. The recommended regimen will likely therefore be the half-dose followed by the full-dose regimen with the higher efficacy.
It is approved in persons over 18 years of age and pregnant women are excluded. Studies in these subgroups will continue and approval may be granted in these groups depending on results at a later date. Published safety data indicates that this vaccine is well tolerated and has no serious safety events confirmed related to the vaccine. Safety data will continue to be collected and monitored as the vaccine is rolled out world-wide including in the BVI. Work on a national program to make the vaccine available to residents on a purely voluntary basis will start early in the new year in preparation for when the vaccine is delivered in the Territory. This will be led by the Ministry of Health and involve collaboration and communication with a wide cross-section of stakeholders across government, private, and non-government sectors.
Minister Speaker, while there may be vaccine hesitancy initially communication to address concerns and barriers will be of utmost importance in addition to using innovative strategies to reach and offer vaccine to all targeted populations. Vaccination of the World’s population is an important strategy to end the continued menace of Covid-19 to the World. The Territory must not only do its part in this effort but also for our own sakes to reduce the impact of this pandemic on the Territory, its inhabitants, and our economy. In the coming weeks more information will be forthcoming.
Minister Speaker, the Ministry of Health is also mindful of concerns surrounding new variants of Covid-19 identified around the World and in particular the United Kingdom. The regional public health agency CARPHA has established the capacity to conduct typing of Covid-19 strains. The BVI has therefore already identified samples to be sent for special genetic typing along with other countries in the region for the purpose of identifying circulating strains in the Territory and the region. The new strain is currently thought to cause more infections and not necessarily more severe disease. Current evidence is that PCR testing, treatments, and vaccine are unchanged as compared to the other circulating strains. However if introduced into the Territory, it has the potential to cause more disease and greater strain on already tight resources. Numerous countries have already taken the decision to restrict air traffic and entry of persons from the United Kingdom. The Ministry will continue to assess and advise Cabinet accordingly as the situation unfolds.
Thank you Mister Speaker.