'Covid-19 jab messaging is damaging confidence’

Trust in the AstraZenca vaccine is being undermined in low income countries, says Dr Ayoade Alakija.

Video Transcript

AYOADE ALAKIJA: We have to understand that this is a once in a hundred year event that we've got going on. The fact that we're vaccinating-- it's never been done on such a mass scale-- that we're vaccinating millions and billions of people in one giant vaccination exercise. So unfortunately, there were going to be some people who were going to react. Is that OK? No, but science is not perfect. We're still, you know, we're weighing the risk and the benefit of this vaccine across the world.

I've just heard you talk about Australia talking about, you know, not rolling it out for under 50s. Pacific, which is my other home, Fiji, the rollout there, nobody has a choice. The low and middle income countries of the world are only getting at the moment the AstraZeneca vaccine. Africa, the African Union Vaccine Delivery Alliance that I co-chair, has just managed to get a hold of about 300 million, about 400 million in total, Johnson & Johnson doses. But those aren't coming till later in the year. AstraZeneca is the only option for many people. And this muddle, as we're talking about, is really, really affecting vaccine confidence daily.

- Yeah. So tell us about that. How much of a blow is it to efforts to try and tackle the virus in your part of the world? In effect, is it in a way irresponsible of these governments just thinking of their own countries' populations, rather than the global good?

AYOADE ALAKIJA: Well, I think it's all highly emotive, Lucy. You know, it's been-- we've had a horrific year and a half. It's a year and a quarter now. You know, it's been highly emotive. Everybody's trying to save as many lives as possible. Governments and everybody is afraid. Economies are collapsing. The health systems are collapsing. And people are reacting and not really thinking of the wider community, as you say, the global good, before they make statements.

So, I mean, irresponsible, unfortunate, I would say. Very, very unfortunate that some of these statements and some of these sort of actions going back and forth, in a way, with the entire vaccine rollout, be it in Europe and in other parts of the world, have been unfortunate.

- Doctor, can you remind us why this particular vaccine, the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine, is so important for Africa and for other countries, why it's different, and why you need it?

AYOADE ALAKIJA: Well, we're in a three-way race with virus, vaccine, and variants. That's what we're in right now. AstraZeneca is the only option for many of the low and middle income countries of the world because it has been the low-- it was the low income choice. We've got supply chain issues. Pfizer, Moderna, and most of the other vaccines are simply not available.

The COVAX Initiative, which is backed by, you know, the various-- it's part of the ACT-Accelerator program-- and, you know, it's a multilateral thing with Gavi and WHO and UNICEF and others, is largely rolling out almost solely AstraZeneca vaccine to over 2 billion people. So if we've now got the message that this vaccine is not safe, we're in a real situation where we're not going to be able to vaccinate people. Already we have a supply chain problem.

But even when the vaccines come, people are saying, well, if you don't want it out there in Australia or out there in the UK, if you don't want to give it to your under-30s-- 70% of Nigeria's population are under 30-- because we're young populations. So why are you saying we should take it? This is a problem we're running into, and I think the messaging really needs to be refined and--