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Vaccilating vaccine-thinking throws up new challenges

Johnson & Johnson jabs may not protect sufficiently against Delta variant; recovered vulnerable may need more than ‘one shot’ and Brits jabbed with Indian Astra may not be allowed into Europe…

Vaccine-thinking changes all the time as experts grapple with the changing pandemic panorama. 

This week the ‘news’ in Portugal is that the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine MAY not properly protect against the Delta variant; that people considered vulnerable who have recovered from Covid-19 MAY need two shots of an approved vaccine, rather than just one – and that Brits fully-vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine MAY not be welcome into Europe after all.

The constantly changing goalposts underline how these vaccines are ‘so new’ that not even ‘the experts’ know enough about them.

Thus the latest stories – none of them yet translated into policy changes, but all of them increasing uncertainty:

For people in Portugal who thought they had completed their vaccinations against Covid-19 with the help of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson jab, national media is reporting Válter Fonseca, coordinator of the country’s technical commission on vaccination, saying that the vaccine’s efficacy when faced with the Delta variant is still ‘uncertain’.

Johnson & Johnson “have already communicated that the immunological response of the vaccine against the Delta variant is being tested, but there is still not any data available…” reports SIC television news, using the headline: “Who took the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may need a booster” (see update below).

The ECDC (european centre for disease control) meantime has recommended that people at risk who have recovered from Covid-19 should not just take one shot to be ‘well protected’, but two. In other words they should not be treated any differently than people who have had no exposure to the virus at all.

Bearing in mind experts previously have said that natural infection is always ‘more robust’ than immunity conferred by the vaccines (click here), and that DGS health authority policy is to give the recovered just one shot of vaccine, it is little wonder that people are becoming confused.

The Daily Telegraph has added to this confusion by reporting that around five million Britons who received the two-shot Indian version of the AstraZeneca vaccine – dubbed Covishield – may be barred from entry into the EU this summer as the jab is not yet ‘recognised in Europe’ for the purposes of the Covid Digital Certificate.

The blow isn’t limited to Britons. 

Says the Telegraph: “the EU ruling has already sparked outrage in Asia and Africa, where the Indian manufactured shot – which forms the backbone of the Covax distribution scheme – has been widely used”.

Up till now the only vaccines authorised by EMA, the European Medicines Agency, are Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and the version of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in the UK or Europe.

But to confuse the situation even more it appears the Astra jabs administered in UK that were manufactured in India were presented to the people receiving them as “Vaxzevria”, the name chosen for the Astra shot following the initial furore over risks of blood clotting (click here).

A spokesman for the department of health confirmed that “all AstraZeneca doses used in the UK appeared under the name Vaxzevria in medical records and on the NHS app, even if they had come from India. Only the batch numbers, also included in the NHS Covid pass, identify them”.

In other words, these millions of Brits may not even KNOW their jabs could see them turned back at airport boarding gates.

There is no suggestion that the Indian manufactured doses are in any way substandard, stresses the Telegraph. It is simply that “the EMA has not authorised the vaccine because the Indian manufacturers have not yet sought a licence for the product in Europe”.

But for Dr Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the Africa Union Vaccine Delivery Alliance, the situation is “outrageous.

“I’ve no doubt it will eventually be rectified but it speaks to the non inclusive nature of the entire scheme… how do you exclude the majority of the world’s population from Europe on the basis of where their vaccine was manufactured,” she asks.

Said the Telegraph: “She added that the move reinforces the view that poorer countries are getting a “worse” vaccine. Across much of Africa, in particular, hesitancy has risen since rollout began – especially after western countries temporarily suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine amid concerns of very rare blood clots.

“What the world is saying to us with actions like this is: we have superior vaccines that provide better protection, because essentially your lives and health status don’t matter as much as ours,” said Dr Alakija. “That’s the message it sends… a two-tier vaccine system for a two-tier world.”

Today in UK British PM Boris Johnson is meeting with Angela Merkel with the whole issue of vaccinations, and foreign travel on the agenda.

Mrs Merkel was only last week calling for a total ban on any Britons (fully vaccinated or otherwise) entering the EU without serving a 14-day period of quarantine (click here).

And as Slovenia takes the reins of the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, the precarity of the Covid Digital Certificate has been instantly mentioned.

Slovenian prime minister Janez Jansa has added his voice to the pressure on Germany to change its stance over fully-immunised travellers from various countries, Portugal included, saying: “If someone tells you he has the certificate, that he has been vaccinated, but that in the end he cannot visit another Member State, no-one will continue to take it (the certificate) seriously”.

Which is precisely what leader writer João Pereira Coutinho has said this morning in his regular column in Correio da Manhã.

In a text entitled “Two pandemics”, Mr Coutinho alludes to the prime minister, currently in isolation despite the fact that has has been double-jabbed and tested negative for the virus.

“Now and against all the evidence, the DGS does not trust the vaccines to stop infection or contagion. This also infers we should not trust the digital certificates that promise freedom to the vaccinated…” he says.

UPDATE: as this text went up online, the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary that produces the one-shot vaccine reported that the jab “neutralizes the Delta variant, and also gives protection against ‘various infections’. Says a text written by Inês Pinto Miguel for Jornal Económico, the company stresses that “some receptors of its vaccine produce strong antibobdies that neutralize all the variants that have appeared in the world over the last eight months”.