April 13, 2021

The controversy of COVID 19 vaccine and false rumours of needing to take a pre-laboratory test first

COVID 19Current AffairsAnalysis

Addis Zeybe contacted the Ministry of Health and analysed why pre-laboratory tests are not needed.

Avatar: Rehobot Ayalew
By Rehobot Ayalew

Rehobot is a lead fact-checker at HaqCheck. She is a trainer and a professional who works in fact-checking and media literacy.

The controversy of COVID 19 vaccine and false rumours of needing to take a pre-laboratory test first

Ethiopia has been one of the first countries to receive the COVAX AstraZeneca vaccine, a global initiative aimed at equitable access to Covid-19 inoculations led by UNESCO, the World Health Organisation (WHO),and others. 

The vaccine programme began on March 13 2021, with health care workers and frontline workers the first priority. The Ethiopian Ministry of Health gave a statement on April 1 stating that people over the age of 65 and those aged between 55 to 64 with underlying health issues would start getting vaccinated from April 5. Two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are required.

Dr Lia Tadesse, the Minister of Health, gave another statement the following day on April 2 emphasizing: “There is no need to have any COVID 19 pre-laboratory tests to get the COVID 19 vaccine.” 

The minister said rumours that "pre-laboratory tests are needed to get vaccinated and other vaccine-related issues" were false. Dr Lia reiterated calls to avoid gatherings and physical contact, and also to avoid unnecessary expenses and costs.

Addis Zeybe has analysed the statement by the Ministry of Health concerning whether COVID 19 pre-laboratory tests are needed to get the vaccine or not, and talked with health experts to clarify some of the issues and concerns that were spreading. 

According to the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with suspected symptoms of COVID 19 and those who have tested positive should wait until they recover from the illness. 

For people who caught the virus after taking their first dose, they should also wait until they recover to get the second dose of the vaccine. But there is no specific reason for the recommendation. 

However, the CDC recommendation should be considered in this regard – that if someone has tested positive, they shouldn’t go outside as they might transmit the virus while getting the vaccine. It is therefore recommended that they should simply quarantine until they recover.

In the UK, the National Health Service says “if you have had a positive COVID test you need to wait 28 days before you attend for a COVID vaccination”.  

It adds: “This is 28 days either from the day you began to feel unwell with COVID symptoms or the day you had your test if you did not have any symptoms.” 

Crucially, there is no requirement to test before as the sheer number of COVID tests could not be coordinated with a huge vaccine programme.

Addis Zeybe contacted the Ministry of Health and asked Dr Meseret Zelalem, Director for Maternal and Child Health, why pre-laboratory tests are not needed. She said: "We don't have the capacity to test such a big number of people in a short time. 

“Even the WHO allows getting vaccinated without being tested, for this kind of situation where we have to vaccinate a large number in a short period, not only for COVID 19 but also for other pandemics too."

On January 8, the WHO stated, in an article about who can take the first approved vaccine, “testing for prior infection is not recommended for the purpose of vaccine decision-making”. 

Dr. Eyosyas Kebede, a frontline health worker in Addis Ababa, said: "COVID testing should not be taken as a prerequisite for someone to be vaccinated. Guidelines of organizations like WHO tell us that there is no demonstrable unique risk of getting vaccinated while with the virus, although independent side effects such as fever, headache and fatigue can be expected within the following days.'' 

Another health expert Addis Zeybe talked with added that there are no side effects to be worried about even if taken by an elderly person who is positive. In the circumstance that they might be negative for coronavirus, they will be shielded from virus contraction.

When asked if there were possible complications, Dr Meseret said there was no specific known risk that came with being vaccinated while positive with the virus. Side effects of the vaccine are not unusual. 

She also pointed out that there is a procedure to be followed before being vaccinated, which is a pre-assessment of how the person is feeling. 

The first thing that is to be done when someone goes to get vaccinated is asking if the person has any fever, fatigue, or any other pain. If they exhibit COVID 19 symptoms, they will get tested as soon as possible. However, if the symptoms are not COVID 19 related and they are not feeling well, they will be told to come back when they feel better.

So far 2.2 million vaccinations have been made available for Ethiopia under the COVAX scheme but it is not clear how many injections have been administered. 

A 58-year-old man with an associated health problem who got vaccinated told Addis Zeybe that health professionals did a pre-assessment and followed procedures before giving him the vaccine. 

The man said he was asked if he had symptoms of any sickness in the past three days and how he was feeling at the time he went to get vaccinated. He added that possible side effects of the vaccine were explained to him in a clear way. 

The Ministry of Health and the other health experts Addis Zeybe talked with agreed that the public should be vaccinated and put rumours and conspiracies about the vaccine aside. They all recommend getting information from credible sources and to continue following all the COVID 19 protocols.