Jamaica's Health Ministry Finally Reports More Post-Vaccination Deaths. Now Eleven, Up From One.
After 18º North’s exclusive reports and in response to my questions, the ministry last night finally gave an update publicly on post-vaccine events, as it was supposed to have been doing all along in keeping with PAHO and WHO guidelines.
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Jamaica’s Ministry of Health & Wellness finally acknowledged that there had been eleven deaths post-vaccination since the country rolled out its Covid-19 vaccination program on March 10.
This follows a question from 18º North at the ministry’s virtual press briefing on Thursday and our exclusive report on July 15 that there had been at least eight deaths that had occurred, covering those who had died within a few weeks after vaccination and not necessarily because of it.
“We concluded that nine of those eleven persons, the deaths were coincidental, so it was not caused by the vaccine. Their death would have occurred whether they had the vaccine or not,” said Dr. Melody Ennis, who is overseeing the country’s vaccination program. Dr. Ennis said causality is determined by an expertly-trained committee of clinicians that looks at events supposedly attributable to vaccination or immunization (ESAVI).
“Two others we have been able to ascertain as being indeterminate,” she said. She added that to make the determination they look at the level of evidence on the form that shows whether a vaccine could cause this illness. “We found that there was no such body of evidence at this time.”
“Therefore the underlying illnesses that these two persons had possibly could have led to their death and it was indeterminate if the vaccine could have caused it.” She did not say whether autopsies had been done on any of the eleven.
The Pan American Health Organization, the Regional Office for The Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO), has recommended that all countries keep track of side effects or adverse events following immunization (AEFI). AEFI is defined as “any untoward medical occurrence that follows immunization and that does not necessarily have a causal relationship with the usage of the vaccine.
In December, the WHO also released a Safety Surveillance Manual on Covid-19 vaccines, which stated, “Timely detection and reporting of adverse events following COVID-19 immunization is the first step in the continuous verification of vaccine safety... including incidents of substandard or counterfeit vaccines.”
On communication with the public, it advised, “Be open and transparent about vaccine safety by providing access to all information, not withholding any, even when the facts are yet to be fully established. There is no evidence to support the assumption that the public will panic if they have access to accurate information in a crisis. Lack of honesty and withholding information can erode trust.”
It said, “Communication that is transparent, timely, empathic and acknowledges uncertainty can help boost people’s trust in health authorities, which in turn can positively influence people’s willingness to be vaccinated.”
Before Thursday’s press briefing, the ministry had only publicly-reported one death for the last three months, despite a commitment in April from Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jacquiline Bisasor-Mckenzie to “be transparent” in its reporting of adverse events following immunization (AEFI).
Dr. Bisasor-Mckenzie did not commit to a timeline then, but similar reports from Jamaica’s international partners like the U.S., U.K. and Canada are published weekly in their own countries.
On Thursday, Dr. Ennis conveyed that there had been a total of 249 ESAVI reports out of 305,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine administered. 46 ESAVI reports were considered serious, including allergic reactions from which persons “have fully recovered.” Serious events are those that result in death, in-patient hospitalization, prolonged or permanent disability, or birth defect.
Dr. Ennis did not detail what the other serious side effects entailed like she did in April at her first presentation on ESAVI events. Side effects becoming public might encourage others with similar experiences to come forward so they can be studied against the typical rates of illness that existed before vaccination and a determination made about whether a safety signal needs to be flagged or, just as importantly, to rule out that the vaccine was the cause of the injury.
In April, there were 76 ESAVI reports in Jamaica, at which time, five were said to have been serious. Patients with serious cases then experienced either severe muscle pain or anaphylactic reactions, which are potentially life-threatening allergic responses. One of the five was the single death then, which was said to have been under investigation at that time.
Dr. Ennis said three persons have been assessed and advised not to get the second dose of the vaccine.
She said that persons are encouraged to report any side effects from the vaccine using the ESAVI form on the ministry’s website. However, it is preferred to “let us know and we will do an assessment on the spot, allay your fears, begin treatment and then forward the documentation to the national level for causality assessment.”
She added that the ministry continues to collect information on adverse events and report them to the international community, where they are typically monitored to spot any safety concerns so a determination can be made if there are any nuances in the country’s population.
AstraZeneca has been the main brand being administered by the Jamaican government, although the country just recently acquired a small donation of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Three hundred thousand more AstraZeneca doses are expected to arrive in the island on Friday, July 30 as part of a donation from the U.K. government to help protect against the coronavirus. Those vaccine doses will be immediately deployed to various sections of the country for administration to persons who want to take it over the weekend.
Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton reiterated at the virtual press briefing that the vaccine “is safe”, but did not comment about the 249 ESAVI reports or the eleven deaths.
He encouraged all persons over 18 to make their appointments on the Ministry of Health’s website to get their vaccinations this weekend.
18º North was the only media outlet which asked questions related to adverse event data collection at Thursday’s virtual press conference. It’s important alternative media continues to exist. We shall continue to monitor the regularity with which these adverse events reports are given to you, the public. Consider supporting the work we do by taking out a paid subscription: