COVID-19 Vaccinations in Vanuatu

The Ministry of Health (MOH) is starting its COVID-19 vaccination program in Efate today (June 2), and will expand to Sanma province in August, Tafea in September, Malampa & Penama in October and Torba in November

The first people eligible for vaccination will be frontline medical workers, those 55 years of age or older, as well as people with underlying condition such as NCDs. Depending on the initial demand from the targeted population, Vanuatu will open vaccinations to the whole population over 18+ years in the next stage to make sure all doses are distributed before the current expiration date at the end of August. It seems plausible that vaccination will be open to everyone on Efate at some point during the month of July.

Currently MOH is using the AstraZeneca Vaccine. They have 100,000 doses allocated through the COVAX program, with 24,000 doses currently in the Country. Vanuatu is looking to reserve up to 200,000 doses through COVAX. Australia is also looking to supply additional AstraZenaca vaccines to Vanuatu. It is possible that other vaccines will be available to Vanuatu at a later date, but the MOH is for now concentrating on using AstraZeneca as it is logistically more suited to Vanuatu’s vaccine storage and distribution systems. At this time, there should not be any expectation that Vanuatu will receive either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. MOH may try to obtain the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose, and it might be possible that Vanuatu also gains access to one of the Chinese vaccines if they are approved for use in Vanuatu.

Vaccination will be open to citizens and residents alike. A second dose will be administered 8 to 12 weeks after the first dose. Once you receive your second dose, you will be considered fully vaccinated and will receive a vaccination certification to prove it.

Regarding AstraZeneca side effects, as of the date of writing, the MOH is expecting that the country will experience up to 1 case of blood clotting related to the vaccine. Compared with numbers found in studies done in Australia and the US, this number is plausible. Clots are extremely rare. In the US, from 8.7 million doses administered, there were 28 cases of clots associated with COVID-19 vaccination and 3 deaths. Vanuatu may experience some cases of blood clotting or it may experience none, based on the fact that the population is only 300,000 people. If you are uncertain about getting the vaccine, there are no specific contraindications unless you have had allergic reactions to vaccines in the past. MOH will have doctors at vaccination sites and will do assessments for anyone who has doubts. The key takeaway is that the vaccine is your best chance against COVID-19 since there is much, much more risks of complications and death with COVID-19 than the vaccine. Vanuatu will most probably not get Moderna or Pfizer for the foreseeable future, and the other vaccine (Johnson & Johnson) has the same side effects as AstraZeneca.

Based on data from Canada, probabilities of having a blood clots from AstraZeneca are 0.0004%. In Canada, the average probability of having a blood clot not related to the COVID-19 vaccine is 0.13%. There is 322 times more “naturally” occuring blood clot cases in the general population compared blood clots cases related to AstraZeneca vaccine. Blood clots from COVID-19 vaccine are therefore extremely rare.

In Canada, people hospitalized for COVID-19 infection had 14.7% probability of having a blood clot.

It is important to remember that Vanuatu’s population is particularly at risk from complications to COVID-19 due to the high prevalence of NCDs.

Vaccination is not mandatory, but the more people there are that get vaccinated, the better chance we have to fight COVID-19 as a country and protect the people who are the most vulnerable.