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GSD calls for details of vaccination strategy, as TG raises concerns too

The GSD has called on the Gibraltar Government to publish its vaccination strategy as it seeks clarification on how Gibraltar will roll out its first batch of 5,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

This comes after the Chief Minister announced on January 2 that Gibraltar will likely implement a “one dose strategy” in line with the UK, delaying the second dose in order to cover almost the entire population of Gibraltar’s elderly and vulnerable community.

And in a related development, Together Gibraltar highlighted concerns expressed by some scientific experts about the UK’s decision to delay the second dose in order to reach more people faster.

The GSD noted the fact that advice for the UK would require a follow up second-dose to be administered within 12 weeks in order to provide lasting immunity against Covid-19.

Shadow Minister for Health Elliott Phillips said: “Whilst we understand that the Government is taking advice from the United Kingdom experts there is significant interest in our community as to how the Government will make the vaccine widely available once the vaccine has been provided to our vulnerable and our front-line workers.”

“It is becoming increasingly clearer that the restoration of social and economic freedoms will be linked in part to the safe vaccination of our community and therefore it is critical that the Government set out its detailed strategy and timeline for the rolling out of this important vaccine and when it expects to receive further shipments of both the Pfizer vaccine and delivery of the much-hailed Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.".

In its statement the GSD also drew on examples of other Overseas Territories such as the Cayman Islands, which is expected to make significant inroads in relation to widespread vaccination by the middle of March 2021.

The GSD hoped Gibraltar will follow either “a similar or improved” timetable.  

TG CONCERNS

TG said the UK’s decision to implement a delayed approach to vaccination in order to increase the number of people who can be initially vaccinated raised a number of questions.

The UK’s chief medical advisers have said the first Covid-19 vaccine dose offers “substantial” protection.

“Short term vaccine efficacy from the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is calculated at around 90%, short term vaccine efficacy from the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is calculated at around 70%,” the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said in a statement recently.

“Given the high level of protection afforded by the first dose, models suggest that initially vaccinating a greater number of people with a single dose will prevent more deaths and hospitalisations than vaccinating a smaller number of people with two doses.”

“The second dose is still important to provide longer lasting protection and is expected to be as or more effective when delivered at an interval of 12 weeks from the first dose.”

The strategy envisages a longer time period between first and second dose, making it possible to reach a larger number of people with the initial batch.

The second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines would be within 12 weeks of the first, rather than three weeks as originally envisaged by the manufacturers and tested in clinical trials.

But the move has split the medical and scientific community, an issue highlighted by TG in a statement yesterday.

“While the party understands that this measure is aimed at covering a greater number of people in a shorter period of time, it believes that these decisions should be taken with the backing of solid, scientific evidence and the consensus of established bodies,” TG said.

“The UK’s change in vaccination strategy has divided the UK medical community and sparked international controversy, with negative reactions coming from vaccine developers Pfizer/Biontech, the WHO, the American FDA, and the British Medical Association, and is not approved for implementation by the European Medicines Agency.”

Earlier this week, Pzifer/BioNTech said there was no data to support moves to delay the second dose of the jab, adding that the vaccine had not been tested on differing dosing schedules.

“There is no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days,” the companies said in a joint statement.

TG pointed too to statements by the European Medicines Agency, which said any changes to the initial vaccination strategy required variations to the authorisation of the jab as well as additional clinical data, without which it would be considered “off label use”.

The party quoted too Dr Joachim Hombach, the executive secretary of the World Health Organization’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunisation, who said: “We feel that we need to be grounded in evidence in relation to our recommendations, but totally acknowledge that countries may see needs to be even more flexible in terms of the administration of the second dose, but it is important to note that there is very little empiric data from the trials that underpin this type of recommendation.”

A similar message, also highlighted by TG, had been issued by Dr Anthony Fauci, of the US Federal Drugs Administration, who said changing schedules was “premature” and not rooted in evidence.

“Without appropriate data supporting such changes in vaccine administration, we run a significant risk of placing public health at risk, undermining the historic vaccination efforts to protect the population from Covid-19,” Dr Fauci said, in a quote highlighted by TG.

The party said “a failed vaccination strategy” risked avoidable deaths, inability to successfully suppress the virus and the potential to create other, more virulent strains.

It added: “TG would like to ask Government if it is basing its decision on any solid, scientific evidence, or whether it is blindly following the UK’s path like it did in the first weeks of the pandemic response.”

“Let us not forget that local public health authorities at the time stated we were following the UK’s herd immunity strategy - and we all know how that went.”

Both the GSD and TG were reacting to a report in the Chronicle yesterday on the imminent arrival of the first batch of vaccines to Gibraltar.

In that article, the Gibraltar Government said it would follow the advice and guidance of UK health authorities in administering the vaccine once it arrives on the Rock this Saturday, with a final decision on dosage strategy yet to be confirmed.

“The Government will act only in keeping with the advice from the UK Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in respect of dosage and dosage intervals,” a spokesman for No.6 Convent Place told the Chronicle.

“Anything we do will be designed to be safe, secure and in keeping with the practice in the UK under the NHS or approved for deployment by them.”

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