Despite reports from Norway of a number of elderly people dying after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram says the vaccine is still recommended for the elderly population as they are the ones most at risk.
Parasram, who was speaking during yesterday’s Covid-19 virtual media briefing, said it is still too early to make any determination regarding the “Norway incident” as investigations are ongoing.
Reports indicate that 23 people in that country died within days of receiving their first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.
Thirteen of those were elderly people in nursing homes and were all over the age of 80.
Norwegian health officials said common reactions to the vaccine, including fever and nausea, may have contributed to a fatal outcome in elderly patients who were already frail.
In Trinidad and Tobago, people over the age of 60 have been identified as one of the groups who will be targeted to receive the vaccine in phase one of distribution, as well as healthcare and front line workers, and people with non-communicable diseases.
Questioned about the Norway issue yesterday, Parasram said investigations are ongoing to determine exactly what was the cause of the adverse reactions.
“But in terms of the safeguard for the people of Trinidad, we have the benefit of time, in the sense that we are able to see the use of this vaccine being rolled out across the world,” he said.
“In terms of the number of people that have been vaccinated, we’re talking about millions at this point in time, and it’s going up by the day. So we look at the adverse reactions that are occurring as one of the measures and, of course, looking at what types of adverse reactions are occurring.”
Parasram said health officials are due to meet next week to review all the findings.
“We will look at all the incidents that occur across the world and build it into our strategy,” he said.
Parasram noted while the vaccines are not authorised for persons under the age of 16, no upper age limit has been set.
As such, the advice remains the same for the elderly population in T&T.
“(The World Health Organisation) stands by the elderly population being one of the first to be vaccinated because of the risk of death, mortality and morbidity in that particular age group,” the CMO said.
“And we have seen in Trinidad over the months that the majority of people that have died from Covid-19 do belong to the elderly group, and it’s always a matter of weighing the risk versus the benefit of taking any medicine or any vaccine.”
Parasram added that in recent weeks, there has been a slow but steady increase in the number of very elderly people presenting to health facilities with Covid-19-related issues.
“Particularly, we have seen some in Arima General Hospital, as well as Port of Spain General Hospital, going quickly thereafter to the Couva facility, and we have seen the demise in those individuals, and that is a concern.
“So vaccination will provide significant support to that particular group of individuals. I don’t want to use this particular incident that has occurred in Norway without being fully investigated to make a determination as to if there will be an upper limit for vaccination.”
Who should not get
The Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine is not suitable for certain groups of people.
Parasram said the vaccine is not recommended for people with severe allergies.
“So it requires the physicians, when we train the physicians to administer any vaccine, that they ask probing questions about the history of allergies, and that goes for existing vaccines as well.”
The WHO has also advised that the vaccine is not recommended for use in pregnant women or children under the age of 16.
“They have been found to be safe in cases of persons who do have non-communicable diseases, for example, diabetes and hypertension,” Parasram said.
He said distribution of the vaccine will likely begin in T&T at the end of March.