All you need to know about vaccination in the time of COVID-19

Published in Health
Thursday, 29 April 2021 10:57

Produced in cooperation with WHO and EUvsDisinfo

  1. 1.       What are the benefits of being vaccinated?

Today, there are vaccines to protect against at least 20 diseases, such as diphtheria, tetanus, influenza and measles. Together, these vaccines save the lives of up to 3 million people every year – that’s more than five lives every minute, helping people to grow up and grow old in good health.

Vaccinations are an integral part of the panoply of healthcare that has vastly extended the length and quality of our lives in the past hundred years. Most of us received several vaccines as children, protecting us against diseases that just a few generations ago killed and crippled thousands. And our elderly and vulnerable populations are vaccinated every year to protect them against annual strains of influenza. We know that vaccinated children do better at school, and their communities benefit economically. Vaccines advance global welfare and are among the most cost-effective means of doing so.

There are now several vaccines that are in use against COVID-19, and several hundred million vaccine doses have already been administered. These vaccines protect against the disease and its consequences by developing an immune response to the virus. 

Getting vaccinated will also help protect people around you, because if you are protected from developing severe COVID-19 disease through vaccination, you are less likely to infect someone else – someone like your elderly parents or grandparents, who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, or the doctors and nurses on whom we all depend. Exactly how well vaccination will prevent onward transmission is not yet known, however, so it is important to also continue with other prevention measures, like wearing a mask, until everyone around you is also vaccinated.

 

  1. 2.       Are all COVID-19 vaccines safe?

All vaccines authorised in the EU to prevent COVID-19 undergo a scientific evaluation by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and are rigorously monitored to ensure safety. The WHO is working together with the EU and around the world to ensure that the highest safety standards are met for authorised vaccines.

The EMA has so far approved four vaccines for use in the European Union – those produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. Three others are currently under review, including the Russian Sputnik vaccine.

Like all vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines have gone through a rigorous, multi-stage testing process, including large trials that involve tens of thousands of people. These trials are specifically designed to identify any common side effects or other safety concerns.

It’s true that COVID-19 vaccines have been developed and approved at record speeds, but there has been no compromise on safety – on the contrary, the unprecedented international cooperation and vast amounts of funding have enabled huge clinical trials in real life conditions that usually take much longer to achieve, if feasible at all.

Once a COVID-19 vaccine is introduced, WHO supports work with vaccine manufacturers, health officials in each country, and other partners, to monitor any safety concerns on an ongoing basis.

As with all medicines, side effects can occur after getting a COVID-19 vaccine, and are usually a sign that the vaccine is working by stimulating the immune system to prepare the body to fight the disease. However, these side effects are transient (24-48 hours), and serious side effects (such as an allergic reaction) are exceedingly rare. The fact is: the risk of the disease by far outweighs the risks of the COVID-19 vaccines.

You can review COVID-19 vaccines under investigation, evaluation and authorised for use in the EU on the EMA website or find out the latest on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines from the WHO.

 

  1. 3.       How are the EU and WHO helping with vaccination?

The European Union last year spent more than €1 billionto support the research and development of vaccines and new therapies to cure COVID-19. The new mRNA technology, which has been vital for the rapid development of several vaccines, has been developed in Europe. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in particular has had strong financial support from the EU (BioNTech has received more than €9 million of EU research funding over the past decade, as well as a €100 million loan from the European Investment Bank in 2020).

Through its advance purchase agreements, the EU has ordered 1.3 billion vaccine doses from BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson – significantly more than what it needs to vaccinate its population of 447 million people. The EU intends to share part of these vaccines with its partner countries in parallel to accelerating the EU’s own vaccination plans.

At the same time, the European Union is one of the biggest supporters of COVAX, a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. The EU’s Team Europe (which combines resources from the EU, its Member States and European financial institutions) supports COVAX with more than €2.2 billion, including €1 billion from the EU budget. This is a key contribution that is helping COVAX to secure 1.3 billion doses of vaccines for 92 low and middle-income countries, including its Eastern Partners, by the end of 2021.

COVAX has so far published the following allocations of vaccines for the Eastern Partner countries for the period February to May 2021:

  • Armenia: 124,800 doses of AstraZeneca
  • Azerbaijan: 432,000 doses of AstraZeneca
  • Georgia: 129,600 doses of AstraZeneca and 29,250 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Moldova: 108,000 doses of AstraZeneca and 24,570 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Ukraine: 1,776,000 doses of AstraZeneca and 117,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech

The first COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX facility have already arrived in Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine and Moldova. Romania has also shipped vaccines to Moldova through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

But the vaccines themselves are only half the story. Equally important is the vaccine infrastructure. Since February 2021, the EU and the WHO have been working together in a major effort to support the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination in the six Eastern partner countries. With a total budget of €40 million over three years, this is the largest EU and WHO joint action ever implemented in the European Region.

Through this programme, the EU and WHO are helping to prepare national infrastructures for the effective receipt and deployment of vaccines. The joint effort includes risk communication and community engagement, support to vaccine supply chain management, vaccination data and safety monitoring, training of health managers and medical staff involved in the vaccination campaign, scheduling of the vaccinations, as well as key logistical support for the delivery and handling of the vaccines and supplies.

 

  1. 4.       Will the COVID-19 vaccine provide long-term protection? When will this all be over?

Because COVID-19 vaccines have only been developed and deployed over just the past year,  it’s too early to know exactly how long their protection will last. Data from early studies show that immunity persists for several months but the full duration is not yet known, so continued monitoring will be needed.

If immunity against coronavirus does not last, then it may be necessary to have a vaccine every year, just as we do with the flu vaccine. 

As for the impact of COVID-19 vaccines on the pandemic, this will depend on several factors, such as how quickly they are delivered, how many people get vaccinated, and the possible development of new variants of the disease.

To safely achieve herd immunity against COVID-19, a substantial proportion of a population will need to be vaccinated, lowering the overall opportunities for the virus able to spread in the whole population. The percentage of people who need to be immune, either through prior infection or vaccination, in order to achieve herd immunity varies with each disease (e.g. 95% for measles and around 80% for polio). The proportion of the population that must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to begin inducing herd immunity is not known. 

It is also not yet known how well vaccination will prevent transmission of the virus to others who may not be protected.

Therefore, until vaccination is widely available, we have to continue following public health measures – social distancing, wearing masks in public and good hand-washing hygiene – as these play an important role in breaking the virus transmission chain.

  

  1. 5.       Many of my friends and relatives think it’s all a conspiracy and are suspicious of the vaccine: how can I change their minds?

It could be a a friend, a loved-one, a colleague or a neighbour. We all know someone who is strongly opposed to vaccination. Often, this fear is driven by belief in anti-vaccine conspiracies, like the untrue but persistent myths that Microsoft is using vaccines to microchip humanity or that vaccines can modify our DNA.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 health crisis has provided ample opportunities for the spread of mis- and disinformation, not just in the Eastern partner countries, but all over the world, including in the European Union and the United States.

Whether deliberately spread to divide people, or driven by genuine concern, false information and conspiracy theories exploit our fears and contribute to existing vaccine hesitancy.

People may be exposed to misinformation through the media or opinions and rumours spread in person. But increasingly, it is online social networks which fuel the infodemic. By amplifying attention-grabbing posts, social media algorithms actually incentivise the circulation of misinformation and disinformation, allowing false information to spread faster and further than true information.

In the Eastern Partnership region, one of the key disinformation narratives revolves around the claim that vaccines developed in the West are dangerous. The EUvsDisinfo campaign, the EU’s leading initiative to counter disinformation, is continuously monitoring and analysing the spread and impact of vaccine disinformation in the EaP countries, debunking myths around the narrative that feeds the vaccine war between Russia and the West.

The EUvsDisinfo initiative has compiled a six-point guide for conversations with vaccine-sceptics to help you along the way with that friend or relative who is distrustful of vaccination. The guide urges you to stay calm, understand, relate, connect with reliable sources, encourage critical thinking, and… know when to stop.

  

  1. 6.       There’s still a way to go on vaccination, so what other support is available in times of COVID-19?

The European Union has been in the frontline of COVID-19 support from the moment the pandemic struck. To date, more than €1 billion worth of support has been allocated in emergency relief to cover immediate needs, or for assisting national health systems and the social and economic recovery of the region. 

The EU and the World Health Organization are working together, not only on vaccine supply, but to support the health sector across the six Eastern partner countries through the Solidarity for Health Initiative, supplying medical devices and personal equipment. Over 11 million items of personal protective equipment, 12,000 lab kits, over 1,500 ventilators, oxygen concentrators and pulse oximeters, and over 20,000 PCR testing kits have been provided as part of this project.

The EU is also supporting the most vulnerable groups in society, with investments of more than €11 million. Grants of up to €60,000 are given to civil society organisations through the Eastern Partnership Solidarity Programme for projects such as supporting local schools with distance learning, helping women who have lost their jobs, or providing food supplies to the elderly and the disabled. A second programme, COVID-19: Civil Society Resilience and Sustainability, also works with civil society and independent media, helping them to continue providing access to protection and assistance, especially to the most vulnerable groups, as well as accurate information about the pandemic.

The EU is also helping business to survive this exceptionally difficult time, working closely with financing institutions in the EU Member States and globally to support small business, the self-employed and others across the region to easily access local currency loans and apply for grants to boost their businesses during and after the crisis, channelling support through the EU4Business initiative. You can visit the dedicated COVID-19 support pages on the EU4Business website to find out about support measures for businesses in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

European financial institutions, such as the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, have been key players in supporting business credit, but they have also invested billions in supporting public health systems, building economic resilience, digitalisation, renewable energies and green investments, providing both emergency support and longer-term investment to help build a sustainable recovery.

Mass COVID-19 vaccination begins in Azerbaijan

Published in Health
Monday, 18 January 2021 20:24

BAKU, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Azerbaijan's senior health officials on Monday took their first inoculations of a vaccine made by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech, marking the beginning of mass vaccination against COVID-19 in the country, according to state-run news agency AZERTAC.

Azerbaijani Health Minister Ogtay Shiraliyev and his deputies, as well as other health officials, were among the first to be vaccinated by what Shahmar Movsumov, an assistant to the president of Azerbaijan, earlier described as "the most safe and effective vaccine" procured by Azerbaijan.
 
Specialists decided that "the best vaccine for Azerbaijan is the vaccine of the Sinovac company" as it has passed clinical tests in many countries, said Shiraliyev, when addressing the local media after his inoculation in Baku. 
 
The first stage of mass vaccination starting on Jan. 18 will cover health and technical workers at the country's medical institutions, law enforcement staff and servicemen, while people aged over 65 will be vaccinated starting from Feb. 1, according to health authorities.
 
Last week, Azerbaijan's Cabinet of Ministers approved the country's national COVID-19 vaccination strategy for 2021-2022, under which people who get the COVID-19 jab will receive a certificate to show they have been vaccinated.
 
Azerbaijan purchased 4 million doses of Sinovac vaccine, the first batch of which has been recently delivered to the country.
 
Although a strict special quarantine regime remains in effect throughout Azerbaijan until April 1, the authorities lifted major restrictions last weekend due to a drop in the number of infections in recent weeks.
 
According to the country's operational headquarters for COVID-19 prevention and control, Azerbaijan reported on Sunday 322 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing its total to 227,273. 

Inter-Agency Coordination Council Discusses Current Epidemic Situation and Preparation for COVID Vaccination Stage in Georgia

Published in Politics
Tuesday, 05 January 2021 15:18

Current epidemic situation, new confirmed strain of COVID-19, intensive testing and preparation for the vaccination stage were discussed by the Inter-Agency Coordination Council led by Giorgi Gakharia, Prime Minister of Georgia at its regular meeting held today at the Government Administration.

Detailed discussions were held at the Council Meeting on the current epidemic situation in the country. It was noted that volume testing was small in recent days. Detection of new cases was also minor and thus 2 316 confirmations today are related to people contracting the virus prior to the last 3 days.

New strain of COVID-19 was also discussed. One case has been confirmed so far in Georgia. It was noted that its clinical performance is similar to the previously known strain, though community transfer rate of this one is relatively faster and more caution is required on the grounds of information available at this stage.

Performance of the intensive testing as a process was also discussed by the Council, including the additional steps taken for the extension of scope and coverage of systemic target groups to make sure that the process becomes more effective.

Steps made by the Specialized Task Force established with the instructions of the Prime Minister of Georgia for the uninterrupted flow of COVID vaccination process in the country have been discussed at the meeting today as well. It was noted that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and overseas diplomatic missions of Georgia are engaged in the negotiations held on behalf of the State with international partners and pharmaceutical companies to make sure that first dozes of the COVID vaccine reach the country as early as possible.

It was once again noted that effective enforcement of the imposed restrictions is required, along with all the recommendations that need to be adhered. They include the social distancing and uniform wearing of face masks.

Since the detection of the first case of COVID-19 in Georgia, 232 079 individuals have been proven positive through lab testing, out of which 222 787 individuals recovered and 2 646 died.

Currently 377 individuals are placed in quarantine, 763 - at clinical hotels and 4 012 - at hospitals under medical supervision.

The Inter-Agency Coordination Council led by the Prime Minister of Georgia actively engages the Parliament of Georgia chaired by MP Archil Talakvadze and Administration of the President of Georgia.

 

Press Service of the Government Administration

 

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