Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Pregnant women living in Covid-19 hotspots in Uganda will be considered for the Covid-19 AstraZeneca vaccine.
According to the health ministry, pregnant women in districts like Kampala, Arua, Wakiso and Kyotera will be among the first beneficiaries because they have higher chances of being exposed to the disease.
The decision to vaccinate women in this category is in line with the World Health Organization-WHO’s recommendation that only pregnant women at risk of being infected with the disease be vaccinated.
Dr Alfred Driwale, the manager of the Uganda National Expanded Programme on Immunization says the WHO recommendation allows for the vaccine to be given in extenuating circumstance.
“In districts like Kampala where we imagine many people are sick, we cannot live out pregnant women because they are liable to be infected with the virus,” Driwale said.
In districts that report low COVID-19 numbers like Kalaki, the vaccine will not be given to pregnant women who are not at risk of being infected with the disease. “We are limiting vaccination to women in these areas because during vaccine development, clinical trials done did not include pregnant women and even children. We are not refusing to vaccinate them because the vaccine is dangerous. We just do not know how they will react with the vaccine,” Dr Driwale said.
In other parts of the country where the number of reported cases keeps on fluctuating, Dr Driwale says it will be a case by case issue. Health care workers will have to use their judgment in determining which pregnant woman can receive the vaccine or not. To decide who can be vaccinated, the health ministry is going to carry out registration before getting vaccinated.
During registration, patients will be asked to give a brief detail of their medical history, reveal whether they react to vaccines or not and if they are pregnant or might be pregnant.
Dr Yonas Woldermariam, the WHO representative to Uganda says careful assessment needs to be done before a decision to vaccine women is made.
“The WHO recommendation on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine is that the use of the vaccine on pregnant women is assessed. The benefits of getting the vaccine need to outweigh the risk of not getting the vaccine. Right now, we know that lactating mothers can get the vaccine but for pregnant women, this needs to be assessed,” Dr Woldermariam emphasizes.
In addition to pregnant women, children below the age of 16 will also not be getting the vaccine. In Uganda, this amounts to over 20 million people.
The minister of health Dr Jane Ruth Aceng says children below these ages cannot be vaccinated because the effect of the virus on them remains unknown.
“The information that we have from WHO is that children under 16 should not be vaccinated until research is carried out in them to show what kind of effect vaccines have on them,” she said.
The UN health agency says even children who might be at high risk of getting the disease like those suffering from asthma should not get vaccinated. Most vaccine developers have tested the vaccines on people aged 18 and above.
As such, only 20,721,400 people will be getting the vaccine. According to the health ministry, the country is expecting to receive a total of 48 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. 18 million doses have been ordered directly from the Serum Institute of India while another 18 million doses will be procured through the COVAX facility.
An addition 3.5 million doses will be donated by COVAX plus another 9 million doses from the African Union.
As part of the African Union allocation, Uganda will get 4 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, 3.3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 1.6 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
Uganda is planning on carrying out three phases of vaccination depending on when procured and donated vaccines will arrive in the country. The first phase is expected to take place in the first quarter of the year and priority will be given to health workers, security officers, teachers, older persons and people with existing comorbidity.