Health Desk – 25 Mar, 2021: The Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective and has no serious side effect like blood clot, says Bangladeshi-born British scientist Dr Khondoker Mehedi Akram.
In an exclusive interview, Golam Mortoza, Akram talked about various aspects of the vaccine named Covishield and the recent rise of infections.
About the reports on blood clot from AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe, which also created concern in Bangladesh, he said in normal circumstances one in 10 lakh people may develop blood clot.
Akram, a research fellow at the University of Sheffield, said around 50 lakh people received shots in Bangladesh and in that case five out of these 50 lakh were supposed to face such a problem.
“But no one has so far complained [of blood clot]. After analysing reports and extensive deliberation involving many experts, the European Medicine Agency last Friday clearly said the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective.”
Regarding the recent surge in infections in Bangladesh, Akram said the pattern of cases indicated the effects of new strains. He said infections were spreading in urban areas.
Identifying those strains irrespective of whether they have spread or not is the biggest challenge, he added.
“I have been saying from the beginning that the three-gene RT-PCR test is able to detect particularly the UK variant. Kits of some renowned companies are available in the market for three-gene tests.”
The scientist said Bangladesh doesn’t need many thermocycler machines to conduct three-gene tests in all testing centres, but it needs enough testing kits. “For that, a sincere initiative from the government is needed.”
He also said in Britain many Covid-19 cases of the UK variant were detected through three-gene tests.
About genome sequencing through which the Bangladesh government detected at least 10 cases of the UK variant in January, Akram said it is an expensive and time-consuming process.
“Besides, doing genome sequencing of many samples daily is not possible in Bangladesh or elsewhere in the world.”
Asked whether Covishield is effective against the UK strain, he said some laboratory tests show that the efficacy of the vaccine on the UK variant is less than that on the original one.
“It doesn’t mean that we will not take the vaccine any more. In reality, vaccine is giving us protection and it is effective in saving lives.”
Terming media reports in Bangladesh under headlines like “One infected 12 days after taking vaccine” or “One died a month into taking shot” as negative messages, the scientist said one cannot be fully protected immediately after receiving the vaccine.
“In case of Covishield, the efficacy begins 22 days after the administration of the first dose. It means, there will be no effect of the vaccine in the first 21 days,” said the Sheffield university scientist.
He said considering the maximum efficacy of 76 percent after the first dose, the remaining 24 percent are likely to get infected with the virus. “Still, their condition will not be that serious which would need hospitalisation.”
Besides, 20 percent of those who got their second jab might still be infected. But it will be a mild infection and the condition of the patients will not be serious, he said.
Akram also emphasised on following health safety rules irrespective of those vaccinated or not.
“The benefits of the vaccine are many. It can prevent almost 100 percent of deaths. But above all, there is no alternative to following health guidelines.”
Asked how effective the Covishield is in producing enough antibodies, the scientist said testing kits are now available to check it.
He said Bangladesh can approve standard antibody kits and provide training to people who will test it so that no confusion is created.
Akram said the vaccine gives protection for at least nine months.
He said unless side effects like acute headache that compels hospitalisation or haemorrhage beneath skin are developed after the first dose, a person should take the second shot.
“Symptoms of headache or fainting are quite common and people should not be worried about it. They should consult a physician,” said Akram.