The announcement by Saint Lucia’s Ministry of Health and Wellness of the speedy arrival and availability of Janssen — a side-product of the American Johnson & Johnson vaccine manufacturers — has again raised questions among concerned citizens about the availability of Cuba’s Caribbean-made vaccines.
National Immunization Manager Tecla Jn Baptiste has announced that the Janssen vaccine will be available for third dose “booster” shots. She says the Janssen vaccine will be made available as “a single primary vaccination dose” for individuals 18 years and older. The new vaccine has authorization for use as a ‘Mix & Match booster dose’ with a different COVID-19 vaccine: Pfizer or Oxford-AstraZeneca.
Inviting unvaccinated Saint Lucians to grab the free opportunity of a one-dose jab for the holidays, she said: “This is the opportunity to become fully vaccinated with only one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, within a short space of time, especially ahead of the festive season.”
Jn Baptiste said, “The Janssen vaccine, like others approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), has undergone rigorous testing and review and found to be safe by the regulatory authorities.” “It is safe and effective at protecting people from the extremely serious risks of COVID-19 and can be administered to people with known medical conditions associated with increased risk of severe disease – such as hypertension, chronic lung disease, cardiac disease, obesity and diabetes”, so says Jn Baptiste.
The Health Ministry’s top vaccination official explained that “findings indicate a single Janssen dose had an efficacy of 66.8% against symptomatic moderate and severe COVID-19 infection, and 28 days after the second dose, it was 85.4% against severe disease and 93.1% against hospitalization.”
The most common reports of side effects associated with Janssen according to Jn Baptiste are “pain at the injection site, headache, fatigue, muscle aches and nausea, occurring within one to two days following vaccination and are mild to moderate, lasting one to two days.”
The announcement of the approval for use of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot booster-jab follows the announcement in August of the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine, the island’s recommended US brand as a third booster shot for persons who’d had two doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca.
The British-funded ‘Not-for-Profit’ Oxford-AstraZeneca was the first and only vaccine here after the pandemic was declared until the arrival of Pfizer in August this year.
Questions are being asked about the ease with which the European and American vaccines were approved by the WHO and the apparent overwhelming support for the American vaccines in particular, by local Health Ministry officials.
The Chief Medical Officer (CMO), for example, was praised for vaccinating her two under-aged children with Pfizer within days of its arrival and publicly encouraged local parents to do likewise. But there are also those who feel she, perhaps, should not have shown any preference for any vaccine. However, given the need to promote an uptake in vaccination, her decision may be understandable.
The WHO has yet to approve Cuba’s Abdala vaccine. But untold numbers of unvaccinated Saint Lucians are quietly, patiently, and hopefully awaiting “the Cuban vaccine”, while complaining their vaccine choices are very limited.
Indeed, thousands of Caribbean citizens across the region have opted to risk infection, while awaiting the Cuban vaccines because of their historical confidence in traditional medical and health cooperation with Cuba. In addition, there are those who simply don’t trust the available European and American vaccines, if only due to the online, volumes of conflicting information on those vaccines.
But there are scientific reasons why Saint Lucians and Caribbean citizens would opt to risk waiting until the WHO approves Abdala. It recently scored a 92% efficacy rate in clinical trials, surprising even Cuban scientists.
Using a combination of modern and traditional approaches, Cuba has developed five vaccines and related medications to fight COVID-19, including a nasal spray for those unable or unwilling to be injected.
Cuba has a long history of producing its own vaccines and has been repeatedly commended by the WHO for its medical accomplishments, including keeping AIDS under control back in the early 1980s.
Cuba was also the first country to join China in creating the initial antidotes to contain the virus in Wuhan, after which it developed its own local “COVID Cocktail” using local ingredients.
Cuba has developed several treatments for various cancers, some already available in Saint Lucia and other Caribbean states – like Vidatox, a pain medicine created from scorpion venom extracts. Scorpion venom is described as a homeopathic medication prescribed mainly to alleviate pain and other symptoms associated with cancer.
Presently, however, the emphasis is on taking the line early for Cuba’s Abdala vaccine, expected to come-off the production line in Havana sooner than later.