Vaccine side effects go unreported

Experts also for immediate start of antibody tests

Manzur H Maswood | Published: 00:21, Feb 27,2021


The recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine, who develop side effects, are not followed up by the country’s health agency as there is no proper mechanism for the reporting of such cases.

Many vaccine takers suffer from side effects like fever and pain or redness on the injection site and become afraid of the conditions while they do not make it to any comprehensive official tally of those developing side effects.

A number of people told New Age that they also caught COVID-19 after taking the shot, which doctors said not unlikely as the vaccine develops antibody in the inoculated people two to three weeks after the vaccination.

Besides, the Directorate General of Health Services  has not taken any decision yet to conduct antibody tests on vaccinated people, officials said.

But virologists and pharmacologists said that an unorganised vaccination programme, excluding the follow-up of the vaccinated, would render the vaccination campaign unsuccessful.

A proper reporting system for the cases of side effects and an antibody test of the vaccinated people 21 days after the inoculation are needed to get a proper assessment of the vaccine Bangladesh is using, they said.

‘Some side effects of vaccines are expected and such things are not bad,’ said noted virologist Nazrul Islam.

‘Side effects are the body’s response to the vaccine and though it may be unpleasant it suggests that the immune system is responding to the vaccine,’ he said.

But the vaccinated people should be properly reported if they develop side effects in order to know more about the vaccine and its outcome, went on Nazrul, also a former vice-chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University.

‘It’s imperative to observe the vaccinated people as it’s a new vaccine,’ he further said.

Nazrul suggested that the government should start the antibody test on vaccinated people to ascertain if they were actually developing the required antibody against COVID-19.

Particularly, as no trial of the vaccine was conducted on Bangladeshi people before rolling out the mass vaccination campaign the antibody test would provide an idea if the vaccine is working on us or not, he emphasised.

‘An unorganised vaccination programme is unlikely to succeed as desired,’ he also said.

Bangladesh has inoculated 28.50 lakh people in the 16 days of the nationwide mass vaccination campaign. On Thursday, 1.81 lakh people took the jab across the country.

The country is using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.

DGHS spokesperson Mizanur Rahman said that as of Thursday they counted 696 people with minor side effects like fever, pain and redness on the injection spot.

‘No information about serious side effects came in yet,’ he said, admitting that they do not follow up the vaccinated people who develop side effects.

‘We provide the vaccinated people with some contact numbers, which are also available on the vaccination card, to inform us if they develop any side effects, but we don’t contact them from our side,’ Mizanur said.

‘We provide telemedicine services if anyone seeks these from us,’ he said but could not provide any data about how many vaccinated people have so far received the telemedicine services using the contact numbers.

Mizanur said that they were yet to decide on launching antibody tests on vaccinated people.

‘The vaccine recipients will be assessed more rigorously in the coming months and years but we’ve not yet taken any decision about any antibody test programme,’ he said.

The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research has meanwhile devised a draft protocol to conduct antibody tests, but the protocol is now under review for the ethical approval and fund allocation, said IEDCR principal scientific officer ASM Alamgir.

On Thursday three vaccine recipients, including two top officials at two ministries, said that they were infected with the coronavirus seven days after taking the first dose of the vaccine.

A senior journalist said that he had developed high fever of 104 degrees some 11 hours after taking the vaccine, but he could not reach the DGHS using the supplied contact numbers.

He then contacted his personal physician who advised him to take paracetamol.

According to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University pharmacology professor Sayedur Rahman, there is a specific guideline on vaccine pharmacovigilance, which includes reporting minor side effects and immediate causality assessment in the event of serious side effects.

It is not possible, he noted, to follow up every person vaccinated when a mass vaccination is under way, but there should be a proper reporting system about the side effects.

Sayedur viewed that the government should not make any excuse for not conducting antibody tests on vaccinated people.

‘Conducting antibody tests on certain number of people, if not all, 21 days after the vaccination is urgent,’ he said.

At least, the government should start the antibody test on a particular number of vaccinated people in eight divisions without any delay, he said.

Things like having a fever, or feeling achy, or getting a headache — often described as flu-like symptoms — are common after receiving many vaccines and this is also true for the approved COVID-19 vaccines, said virologist Nazrul.

People should not be afraid of the vaccine, he said, as such minor side effects are no big issue because keeping COVID-19 at bay is of paramount importance.

He further said that having these symptoms meant that the immune system was working as it should do, adding that usually these symptoms last for a much shorter time than a real infection does as most symptoms are gone within 1-2 days.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common-cold virus, known as adenovirus, taken from chimpanzees. It has been modified to act like the novel coronavirus, although it cannot cause the illness.

Adenovirus is used to deliver the genetic code for the coronavirus spike protein.

Once injected, it teaches the body’s immune system on how to fight the real virus, should it need to, according to the University of Oxford’s Vaccine Knowledge Project.

The Oxford vaccine ingredients are also safe.

The vaccine contains sucrose, or sugar, and acidity regulators such as histidine, and sodium and potassium salts.

The vaccine also contains inactive ingredients such as polysorbate 80, an emulsifier, and a very small amount of alcohol — 0.003mg per dose. The vaccine also has in it traces of magnesium — three to 20 parts per million.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine does not contain human or animal products and common allergens such as latex, milk, lactose, gluten, egg, maize, corn or peanut.

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