Six people died in the late-stage trial of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, which has also been found to cause allergic reactions. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to determine if the vaccine’s benefits outweigh its side effects.
Given the uncertainties hanging over the vaccine, many Guamanians are not too eager to stand in line once the government rolls out the mass vaccination program on Guam.
“I’ll wait for a bit before I get it,” said Sinajana resident Raph Unpingco. “Plus, the side effects don't sound fun. Watching also vaccines in Russia and Europe to see effects. Doesn't it evolve? Wouldn't they have to modify it periodically if so?”
If anything, Unpingco opts to take personal responsibility. “I social distance well,” he said.
While it has yet to approve the Covid-19 vaccine, FDA has authorized its emergency use. The proposed dosing regimen is two doses, administered 21 days apart.
According to FDA’s briefing document released Dec. 10, the most common adverse reactions to the vaccine include injection site reactions, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain and fever.
The vaccine trial indicated that the patients’ immune response to the vaccine kicks in quickly after the first dose with roughly 88 percent efficacy against severe Covid-19 in the week afterward. The second of two doses bumps efficacy to more than 95 percent and gives what is expected to be longer lasting immunity.
Of the 38,000 trial participants, FDA reported two deaths in the vaccine group, and four in placebo. “In the vaccine group, one participant with baseline obesity and pre-existing atherosclerosis died three days after dose 1, and the other participant experienced cardiac arrest,” FDA said.
The agency said a larger number of individuals at high risk of Covid-19 and higher attack rates would be needed to confirm efficacy of the vaccine against mortality. However, FDA noted that non-Covid vaccines such as flu vaccines are proven effective in preventing deaths associated with the disease.
Just the same, FDA said the benefits in preventing death must be evaluated in large observational studies following authorization.
Guam is anticipating to receive a total of 11,700 doses of anti-Covid19 vaccine that will fully immunize 5,850 individuals. According to the Department of Public Health and Social Services, health care personnel and patients in long-term care facilities will be the priority groups to receive the shots during the initial vaccination program. Essential workers are next in line. Based on the Center for Disease Control’s tentative schedule, the vaccination will be expanded to the general public during the summer, depending on the availability of vaccines nationwide.
On Guam, policy makers and the public health sector rely on the vaccine to establish population immunity against the coronavirus and to fully reopen the local economy.
But many are wary about becoming guinea pigs for the experimental vaccine.
“I won’t,” Dededo resident Irene Tamayo said when asked if she would take the vaccine. “I’m scared.”
Dori Leomo of Tamuning said she is worried about possible long-term side effects of the vaccine.
Soraya Vonjalorn of Barrigada said she would rather wait.
“I think I wouldn’t want to be among the first group to take it. I would wait till we are sure of the outcome,” she said. “Eventually, I would take it but want to be sure it’s safe and has no long-term side effects.”
Edmund Cruz of Dededo would also like to take caution. “Not quite sure about its allergic reactions. I would probably wait a little bit to see if the masses report they are doing fine.”
John Paul Manuel of Dededo won't hesitate to take the vaccine once it becomes available. “I live with my 87-year-old grandmother and anything I could do to protect her I will. I could never forgive myself if I somehow got it and passed it on to her,” he said.
Others are not sure how effective the vaccine would be. “What would it do for me? Wouldn’t I still get Covid if exposed?” asked Anna Marie Alegre of Mangilao.