'Deadly consequences': Countries at odds over vaccine's effect on infection rates

While dealing with Fiji's first local Covid-19 cases in over a year, the country's Secretary for Health Dr James Fong was furious at the headline carried by his nation's largest newspaper The Fiji Times.

"Vaccine does not protect you from getting virus," it read.

Despite the publication basing its story on his own words, Dr Fong labelled the claim "misinformation", "false" and "contradicted by science".

"Their reckless words may have deadly consequences," he said, as global confusion reigns about the impact of Covid vaccines on infection rates.

"Vaccines absolutely do protect you from getting the virus, particularly after both doses of the vaccine are administered," Dr Fong told reporters

Fiji Secretary for Health Dr James Fong hit out at suggestion the vaccine did not prevent infection. Source: Fijian Government
Fiji Secretary for Health Dr James Fong hit out at suggestion the vaccine did not prevent infection. Source: Fijian Government

New Zealand PM says vaccine won't stop spread of Covid

Hours earlier, as she defended how a fully-vaccinated airport worker contracted the virus, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's words contradicted Dr Fong's stance.

"We still entirely expect that people who are vaccinated will still get Covid-19 – it just means they won't get [as] sick and they won't die," Ms Ardern said.

The conflicting messages between the Pacific neighbours only highlights the confusion of the public globally.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talks to media in Wellington, New Zealand Monday, Feb. 15, 2021. As people in Auckland adjusted to a new lockdown on Monday, health officials said they'd found no evidence the coronavirus had spread further in the community, raising hopes the restrictions might be short-lived. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned her nation the vaccine would not prevent infection. Source: AP

As the UK's vaccine rollout proceeded at an impressive pace at the start of the year, England's deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam warned the nation the virus could still be contracted and passed on despite having one or both jabs, and prevention methods such as social distancing remained vital.

Experts across the globe say further evidence is needed to establish exactly how effective each vaccine is at preventing reinfection and transmission.

'Prevention of infection not the vaccine's main aim'

Vaccine expert Professor Nikolai Petrovsky from Flinders University told Yahoo News Australia prevention of infection was not any vaccines' primary benefit.

"While there is good evidence that the more effective vaccines such as Pfizer do reduce your chances of getting infected, this is a much weaker effect than their effects on stopping you getting sick or die," he said.

For New Zealand, their earlier-than-expected delivery of its Pfizer vaccines, which will be able to cover its entire population, means it stands itself in good stead.

However for Fiji, which has so far received AstraZeneca doses as part of the World Health Organisation's Covax program, it is not as fortunate.

"Those vaccines that are only weak at stopping you getting sick, for example AstraZeneca or some of the Chinese vaccines, have almost no effect in terms of stopping you getting infected," Prof Petrovsky said.

Australia's second batch of 20 million Pfizer vaccines, which were initially meant to arrive no earlier than October, is now under threat, with Department of Health Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy admitting there is no guarantee the company will be able to ramp up its production to accomodate a request made in the wake of the AstraZeneca blood clotting developments.

A nurse in scrubs receives a Pfizer vaccine at a Townsville centre.
Professor Petrovsky said it was right for frontline workers to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Source: Getty

Australia heavily dependent on AstraZeneca vaccine

Therefore Australians will be heavily dependant on the AstraZeneca vaccine which has seen the public's level of trust in it plummet after precautionary advice to halt its rollout to under 50s from state and federal health departments.

Prof Petrovsky previously criticised the federal government for being "too slow" in diversifying its vaccine options, but agreed with the decision to inoculate frontline workers and quarantine staff with Pfizer.

"[For AstraZeneca], what Jacinda Ardern said is perfectly correct. The vaccine will not stop people getting infected," he said.

"In this context, it raises the very serious question of why you would use it in quarantine workers at all, as the only point to vaccinate them would be to stop them getting infected and then transmitting the virus into the community."

Prof Petrovsky said biotech company Vaxine, of which he is Research Director, was in the process of developing a vaccine which has shown signs of preventing infection and transmission in animals.

He said if human trials were successful, the vaccine, named Covax-19, would be a "game changer".

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