'Covid-19 jab messaging is damaging confidence’

The mixed messaging over the AstraZenca coronavirus jab is affecting vaccine confidence in low and middle income countries, the co-chair of the African Union’s Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance for Covid-19 has said. Dr Ayoade Alakija told BBC World News that the vaccine is being rolled out to over two billion people and is often the only option available. But countries with large populations of under 30s will question why they are being asked to take it when other countries like the UK are offering alternatives for that age group, Dr Alakija said. The European Union’s medicines regulator has said unusual blood clots should be listed as a possible very rare side effect of the AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, but that the benefits outweighed the risks. AstraZeneca has said that both the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) reviews reaffirmed that the benefits of the vaccine "continue to far outweigh the risks".

Video Transcript

AYOADE ALAKIJA: We have to understand that this is a once in 100 year event that we've got going on. The fact that we're vaccinating, it's never been done on such a mass scale. 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 not rolling it out for under 50s. Pacific, which is my other home, Fiji, the rollout there, nobody has a choice. The low 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 globally.

LUCY HOCKINGS: 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 country's populations, rather than the global good?

AYOADE ALAKIJA: Well, I think it's all highly emotive. Lucy. It's you know, it's been, we've had a horrific year and a half. It's a year and 1/4 now. You know, it's been highly emotive, everybody's trying to save as many lives as possible, governments and everybody is frayed, economies are collapsing, 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 in Europe and in other parts of the world, have been unfortunate.

LUCY HOCKINGS: 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 vaccine and variants. That's what we're in right now. AstraZeneca is the only option for many of the low, 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 all the other, most of the other vaccines are simply not available.

The COVAX Initiative, which is backed by the various, it's part of the ACT accelerator program, and it's a multilateral thing with GAVI and WHO and UNICEF and others, is largely rolling out almost solely AstraZeneca vaccine to over two 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.