Safety, not speedDespite the public airing Monday of the results of an advisory group’s meeting at the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS), the news is not cheering. Its members could not reach a conclusion on the safety and efficacy of AstraZeneca vaccines against the coronavirus.
A majority of the members of the group supported inoculation of people older than 65, citing the confirmed effectiveness of the vaccines for all age groups. But some members advised against inoculating people older than 65 with the AstraZeneca vaccines citing the need for more clinical tests for that particular age group.
That remarkable disagreement among medical professionals points to the need for a careful approach by the government from now on.
The European Commission last month recommended inoculation by AstraZeneca vaccines for all age groups above 18. But our government must pay heed to ongoing controversy over the vaccines in some parts of Europe. The Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) advised against the use of AstraZeneca vaccines for people aged 55 and over citing their uncertain efficacy for that age group. German health authorities have recommended inoculation by the vaccines for people aged between 18 and 64. French President Emmanuel Macron went so far as to deny the effectiveness of the vaccines for people older than 65.
Our government must take into account the experiences of foreign countries already well into their vaccination programs. For vaccines, safety is more important than speed. If the government rushes to inoculate the people without considering side effects, it could fuel public distrust in Covid-19 vaccines and encourage people to shun them. That can put the government’s vaccination schedule off track.
The advisory group’s meeting was the first of three steps for the MFDS to approve vaccines for the coronavirus. Any vaccines must go through two more rounds of checking their efficacy and safety by pertinent committees. The MFDS must gather various opinions from diverse medical groups before reaching a final conclusion.
The health authority might reconsider its priority on senior citizens for vaccination. It could consider first inoculating younger people in their 20s and 30s with AstraZeneca vaccines. Despite the need to achieve herd immunity before November as the government promised, it must not treat safety issues lightly. What matters most in a government’s vaccination program is to build public trust by making decisions prudently and delivering related information transparently.