As the Hon Speaker has indicated, I was requested to come and clarify some issues on the ongoing H1N1 vaccination. Mr Speaker, I am certainly aware of the time constraints of the House and I would crave your indulgence that I highlight on only very specific issues.
Mr Speaker, this Statement is to provide a platform for the Ministry of Health to respond to recent media reports and to assure the general public of the safety of the H1N1 vaccines currently being deployed to certain segments of the population.
Ghana has not been spared of the H1N1 disease scourge. We recorded our first laboratory confirmed case on 5th August, 2009. We have, as at 21st July, 2010, confirmed a cumulated total of 960 cases with one death (11- month old baby). Globally, over 18,000 deaths have been reported to the World Health Organisation
The Influenza A (H1N1) 2009 virus has never before circulated among humans. The virus is not related to previous or current seasonal influenza viruses. These facts clearly presented special and formidable challenges in preventing further spread and mitigating the impact of the pandemic at the onset in June, 2009. These challenges include:
The course and evolution was not known and still not predictable;
Nobody in the population was likely to have immunity to the virus;
Many more people could become ill and rates of severe illness, complications and deaths were likely to be much higher and more widely distributed throughout the population.
There were no vaccines against the virus and therefore, a vaccination programme that could immediately and effectively halt the spread of the disease could not be undertaken. It would take five to six months period for the first supplies of approved vaccine to become available. This is because the process of producing a new vaccine involves many sequential steps, with each step requiring a certain amount of time to complete.
Vaccination is a process of introducing an inactivated or life-attenuated organism or part of it that causes a particular disease into the body to mimic the natural, so that the body develops antibodies or other immunogenic material to fight any similar infection that may later be introduced into the body.
The strategies recommended by the WHO for countries at the beginning of the pandemic to prevent spread and mitigate its impact were:
Surveillance including screening for early detection of cases;
Treatment of cases with anti-viral drugs which have been procured and pre-positioned in health facilities; Public education on need for:
personal hygiene; and
social distancing, including closure of schools.
Mr Speaker, these were the strategies we have implemented and continue to implement in addition to the few doses of H1N1 vaccines we received.
As stated earlier, it took manufacturers about five to six months to produce the first lot of vaccines. The global vaccine production capacity of the manufacturing companies for the first 12 months was three (3) billion as against the world population of six and a half (6.5) billion.
Even before the first lots were produced, many developed countries had already contracted or paid the manufacturers to obtain sufficient supplies to cover their populations.
Mr Speaker, most low and middle- income countries, including Ghana, lack the financial resources to compete for an early share of the initial limited supplies. The WHO successfully negotiated with the manufacturing companies for H1N1 vaccine donation for 95 developing and middle- income countries. The initial target was vaccines for about 10 per cent of each of this country's population.
Prerequisite for the receipt of these vaccines include the development of a vaccine deployment plan with technical support and approval by the WHO, the vaccines have to be licensed or registered by the WHO and in addition, the vaccines must be pre-qualified by the appropriate regulatory bodies in each of these countries.
To date, over 61 of these countries have received over 45,449,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccines.
Our vaccine deployment plan was developed and approved by the WHO
following a training workshop for National Immunisation Programme Managers in Abuja, Nigeria for Anglophone WHO- African Region.
Mr Speaker, on 15th May, 2010, we received 2.3 million doses of H1N1 vaccine called Pandemrix. The vaccine is an inactivated (killed) H1N1 virus. It has been pre-qualified by the WHO and manufactured by Glaxo-Smith-Kline (GSK). They have also been registered or licensed by the Food and Drugs Board.
The vaccine is administered by injection. Studies to date indicate that the H1N1 vaccines are as safe as seasonal flu vaccines.
The side effects following vaccinations are normally referred to as “Adverse Events Following Immunisations (AEFI)”. These may be expected (as identified during clinical trial of the vaccine) or unexpected. The expected Adverse Events Following H1N1 vaccination include:
1. Local reactions, such as redness, soreness and swelling at the injection site;
2. L e s s o f t e n , c a n c a u s e fever, muscle - or joint-aches or headache. These symptoms are generally mild; do not need medical attention, and last 1 to 2 days.
Rarely, the vaccines can cause allergic reactions, such as rashes, rapid swelling of deeper skin layers and tissues, asthma or severe allergic reactions due to hypersensitivity to certain components of the vaccine.
Mr Speaker, because of limited quantities and based on technical advice
by the WHO, this initial batch was earmarked for the following segment of the population and is indicated in our deployment plan:
1 . H e a l t h Wo r k e r s : T h e y provide critical medical care and therefore, h igh r i sk exposure and occupational infection. Infection of healthcare workers can be potential source of infection for vul nerable patients. Also, increased absenteeism in this population could reduce health- care system capacity.
2. Pregnant Women: They are at higher risk of complications a n d d e a t h s a n d c a n potentially provide protection to infants who cannot be vaccinated.
3 . O t h e r p e o p l e w i t h medical conditions are associated with high risk, developing complications of H1N1 infection. These include: asthmatics, diabetics, chronic heart diseases, sickle cell diseases, chronic liver and kidney diseases and so on.
4 . N a t i o n a l S e c u r i t y : Medical personnel in the national security are also exposed to similar risks as other healthcare providers. The rest are essential to national security and also high risk due to geographic location among others.
The remaining vaccines after these groups have been covered are to be given to eligible members of the general public.
Mr Speaker, as part of the development