Former health minister Dr Bernhard Haufiku has bemoaned the weak link between health authorities, medical scientists and the public over the safety of Covid-19 vaccines administered in the country.
He made the observation yesterday following Namibia’s suspension of the Sputnik V Covid-19 jab due to concerns it could increase the risk of HIV infection amongst men.
According to Haufiku, health professionals should try their level best to share information, whether negative or positive.
“The Sputnik case just worsened the weak link between health providers, medical scientists and the community,” he noted.
Efforts should thus be made to strengthen and rebuild that link through robust and thorough engagements.
“Listening to the questions people are asking, we are answering them most scientifically and not answering to win the battle over. Where we don’t know, we should tell the people we don’t know,” said Haufiku. He stated that through an established platform such as the United Nations’ Covax facility, there should be a network of scientists scanning all the data and studies done on available vaccines to determine their safety.
“Even if we receive the donation of vaccines, we could warn or inform the community in advance of the flagged issues surrounding a particular vaccine. It will put people at ease. It is unfortunate what is happening now in our country and globally,” he continued.
He said based on his observation on social media, people don’t grasp that all of the vaccines approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) are done so based on an emergency basis, and not as fully tested and recommended like other medicines such as paracetamol or Panado for headache. Despite the setback, Haufiku believes there is a still a positive aspect of the Covid-19 vaccines.
“We need to emphasise that these are approved on an emergency basis, because of the approval based on emergency terms. We can expect a lot of things, but one thing for sure is that vaccines protect against severe disease and ICU landing, which is a positive thing to be taken from vaccines,” he said
while encouraging Namibians to remain calm and stick to the current vaccines available locally. “In public, people demonise vaccines. There is a protective positive effect that prevents you from getting severely sick and dying due to Covid-19. We must not be blinded to the Sputnik setback that is dominating the public.”
Namibia received 15 000 doses of Component 1 and 15 000 doses of Component 2 of the Sputnik V vaccine by donation from the Serbian government. The Sputnik V vaccine was rolled out to certain vaccination sites in the country from 18 September 2021. As of 20 October 2021, 108 doses of Component one and seven doses of Component two of Sputnik V were administered.
The executive director in the health ministry Ben Nangombe said they became aware of a media release issued by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) on 18 October 2021 on the outcome of the review of data submitted to SAHPRA by Lamar International (Pty) Ltd. “SAPHRA indicated concerns with safety and the effectiveness of an Ad5-vectored vaccine in populations at risk of HIV infection and with a high presence of pre-existing Ad-specific neutralising antibodies (Nabs) in the general population,” he stated. Nangombe said patients who received the first dose of Sputnik V will be offered their second dose to complete the vaccination schedule.
“The reason for the discontinuation of the administration of the vaccine is out of an abundance of caution that men who received Sputnik V may be at higher risk of contracting HIV when exposed to it,” he added. Namibia has been rolling out AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sinopharm and Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses since the start of the vaccination campaign earlier this year.