Timor-Leste: Covid-19 and Vaccines – What do we know and not know so far?

East Timor Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak East Timor Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak Photo Suplay

By Tempo Timor

This article is not intended to persuade or dissuade anyone from taking or not taking the vaccines. The intention is to present the available data taken from the World Health Organization (as officially published on their website) and to contextualize it to Timor-Leste’s current situation.

“Even after you’re vaccinated, keep taking precautions. While a COVID-19 vaccine will prevent serious illness and death, we still don’t know the extent to which it keeps you from being infected and passing the virus on to others.”

“The AZD1222 vaccine (AstraZeneca Vaccine) against COVID-19 has an efficacy of 63.09% against symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

No substantive data are available related to impact of AZD1222 on transmission or viral shedding.”

“As of 19 April 2021, the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective at protecting people from the extremely serious risks of COVID-19, including death, hospitalization and severe disease.”

(SOURCE : World Health Organization official website)

There is a flood of information and misinformation circulating concerning Covid-19 and vaccines. What is known so far is that a fully vaccinated group will have a 63% fewer people developing serious illness if they do contract Covid-19 compared to a group who were not vaccinated. It is important to note that the extent in which a fully vaccinated person can still transmit the virus is still unknown. It is important for people who receive vaccination to understand this fact and keep taking precautions.

 In Timor-Leste, most of the positive cases are asymptomatic. There also seems to some resistance from the local population against the vaccine. Why so? Perhaps it is because the known efficacy rate is at 63%. Perhaps it is because numerous countries have outright banned the vaccine or restricting its use to a limited population group because of documented adverse effects in a small percentage of those who received the vaccine. Perhaps there is misinformation spreading. Perhaps it is the fear of injections. Hopefully, this article helps people make informed decisions.

Each individual need to make their own informed choice concerning vaccination. It is heartening to know that the Government of Timor-Leste has announced that they will not “force vaccinate” the entire population. This is a clear indication that the Government respects the citizens freedom of choice. Further to this, no citizen should be demonized for their decision whether to take the vaccine or not. It is a matter of an informed individual choice.

 The Government of Timor-Leste has done well to ensure the availability of vaccines while respecting the freedom of choice of its citizens. As such, citizens who choose to be vaccinated will have the opportunity to do so within the next few month. Citizens who choose to not be vaccinated should not demonize the Government should they develop serious symptoms from Covid-19.

 However, the latest Government announcement to allow free travel once a person is fully vaccinated commencing 1 May 2021 should be re-considered. A fully vaccinated person will likely take much less precautions because he/she will feel safe. However, this person can still be a “spreader”. There is inadequate data available to support such a Government decision. An immunized person means that particular individual has a reduced probability of developing serious symptoms from Covid-19. It does not mean he/she will stop transmitting the virus.

 A study should be done as to estimate when herd immunity can be achieved in Timor-Leste. This is because in the recent weeks, the majority of cases testing positive seem to come from “random” testing; i.e. people who volunteered to be tested because they wanted to travel to the districts outside of Dili. To be able to estimate the percentage of the population that have already contracted Covid-19 and developed natural immunity will be very valuable data because the aim is for the country to achieve herd immunity. Currently, it seems that most people in Timor-Leste are able to develop natural immunity against Covid-19 judging by the number of asymptomatic cases.

 Furthermore, the situation in India should also be closely monitored by Timor-Leste as they are using the same vaccine as Timor-Leste. To date, India has administered more than 100,000,000 doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine. Some reports show that the high casualty rate in India include some of the vaccinated population as well. It will be prudent to monitor this situation closely and not let our guard down even if Timor-Leste succeeds in widely vaccinating its population.

 H.E. Dr. Ramos Horta’s recent practical advice on staying healthy should be heeded by all. One of the best ways to ensure a strong immune system to fight any disease is to eat healthy and lead a healthy lifestyle. Regardless of one’s decision concerning vaccination, this good advice should be heeded by all!


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