The Health Emergency Operations Centre (HEOC) on Sunday opened an online portal for people to register for COVID-19 vaccination.
Speaking at the biweekly press conference, HEOC’s spokesperson Dr Nazla Rafeeq stated that the vaccine would first be administered to those on the frontline such as health professionals and social care workers, as per previously established policies.
However, she said that it was too early to determine a date to commence the vaccine drive, noting that authorities were currently working to train healthcare providers on inoculation, raise public awareness, and consider all necessary factors and variables.
“We want to commence vaccination swiftly but with full preparedness. We shall announce the date [to commence inoculation] as soon as we reach a decision”, she said.
Nazla added that HEOC was yet to decide on quarantine or virus testing exemptions for locals that return to Maldives after receiving the vaccine from abroad, as there were no global-level instructions for such circumstances yet.
Chair of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on Immunization, Dr Ahmed Faisal, highlighted that the COVID-19 vaccine was not currently available in numbers for all countries and persons of every age. Hence, he stated that authorities would first inoculate health professionals since they were at most risk of contracting the virus, followed by high-risk elderly people over the age of 50 and individuals living with major health conditions in the second round. The third round of vaccination would focus on essential needs providers.
“Nearly half the population of Maldives would be inoculated, with these three [categories] combined”, he said.
Dr Faisal also assuaged fears regarding the vaccine, noting that although it took many clinical trials across years to typically approve a vaccine, the coronavirus vaccines had to be developed swiftly over the ongoing pandemic with many lives being claimed.
He declared that authorities will recognize vaccines approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) as those that meet standards.
HEOC acknowledged that in some cases, there could be adverse side effects to the vaccine. Dr Nazla urged to report such cases in order for the authorities to determine whether such effects were caused by the vaccine.
Although authorities are yet to announce a date, Minister of Health Ahmed Naseem previously disclosed that the government planned to commence vaccination during this ongoing January.
On December 31, 2020, the Ministry of Finance announced that they would work with Astrazeneca Singapore Pte Ltd to procure vaccines for Maldives.
The vaccine touted by Astrazeneca was developed with England’s Oxford University. After passing trials, the United Kingom’s Medicines and Healthcare-products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved use of the vaccine on December 30, 2020.
The Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus (known as an adenovirus) from chimpanzees. It has been modified to look more like the coronavirus - although it cannot cause illness.
When the vaccine is injected into a patient, it prompts the immune system to start making antibodies and primes it to attack any coronavirus infection.
Research has shown the vaccine to be safe, provoking an immune response in people of all ages, including those over the age of 55.
Interim data published in November 2020 suggests 70 percent protection, but the researchers say the figure may be as high as 90 percent by tweaking the dose. The results are seen as a triumph, but follows results of up to 95 percent indicated by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Maldives presently records a total of 14,513 virus cases of which 917 are active cases, in addition to 13,540 recoveries and 49 deaths.