• Global Progress in COVID-19 Vaccinations

    Written By: Lawrence Pui Leung Iu, MBBS, MPH, Nicolas Crim, MD, Lana Datuashvili, MD, Erick Hernandez-Bogantes, MD, and Hasan Naveed, MD

    COVID-19 vaccination programs are spreading across the world, but the progress is different with each country. Nearly a year after the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, young ophthalmologists share their stories about which vaccines are available and what's happening in their own communities.

    Lawrence Pui Leung Iu, MBBS, MPH

    Hong Kong

    We are happy to see that the COVID-19 vaccination program is rolling out in different countries in Asia. 

    • Singapore was the first country in Asia to start the COVID-19 vaccination program. Health care workers started to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the end of December 2020. The elderly will start to receive vaccines in February 2021. 
    • Indonesia is going to start COVID-19 vaccinations soon with the Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine this month. Indonesia plans to prioritize working-age adults over the elderly after frontline health workers and public servants because the clinical trials involve mainly working-age population. The government is also hoping that this approach will also help build herd immunity more rapidly.
    • Japan will soon decide on approving the Pfizer vaccine, and in late February will start vaccinating medical workers and frontline personnel, followed by the elderly and then people with underlying health diseases.
    • Hong Kong has procured three types of vaccines which will arrive at different times: Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine arrives in January 2021, followed by BioNTech-Fosun Pharma’s vaccine and then the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The vaccines will be given free of charge and are voluntary. Vaccination is expected to start in February 2021.

    After the outbreak of the COVID-19, we are now seeing hope with the vaccines. We look forward to the success of the vaccination programs in all countries, bringing an end to the pandemic.

    Nicolas Crim, MD

    Argentina

    In December 2020, the Argentina Technology, Food and Medicine National Administration (ANMAT) received the proposal of three different Sars Cov-2 vaccines to be analyzed and authorized for the Argentinian Vaccination Plan. 

    ANMAT gave provisional authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, as well as the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia. 

    The COMIRNATY/BNT162b2 Vaccine (Pfizer and BioNTech Labs) and ChAdOx1-S vaccine (Oxford-AstraZeneca) were authorized by ANMAT with a provisional registration. The third one, Sputnik V Vaccine (Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology, Russia) was authorized by the Health Department with an ANMAT recommendation. 

    Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine will be the only one that will be produced in Argentina by mAbxience labs, and it is expected that 22 million doses will be produced by March 2021. 

    As of January 2021, Argentina has more than 1,662,730 confirmed cases and 42,785 unfortunate deaths due to Covid-19.

    Nevertheless, as of today, Sputnik V is the only vaccine available in the country. So far, 300,000 vaccines were made available.

    On Dec. 29, the Argentine government started a “Strategic COVID-19 Vaccination Plan,” in which the population was divided in six groups to be vaccinated. Initially, only health staff involved in COVID-19 care, emergency and surgeries areas are being vaccinated. 

    Although many ophthalmologists were vaccinated in some Argentinian states during this phase, the decision about whom to vaccinate depends on each state health department. In public and military hospitals, all staff are being vaccinated in the initial vaccination phase. I have not yet been vaccinated but I will be in a few weeks. 

    Lana Datuashvili, MD

    Georgia

    Georgia lies in the extreme southeast of Europe with a population of about 4 million. We currently have a high incidence of COVID-19, about 2,000 new cases per day. 

    The first case of COVID-19 was registered here at the end of February 2020. From this first instance, epidemiologists and infection control experts started targeting remediation activity, with concomitant restraints and introducing controls. 

    But some restrictions for social gathering were lifted on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, we expect to see a further increase in the COVID-19 cases in coming weeks.

    About one-third of the population has already been infected with the virus. Presently, a dusk-to-dawn curfew is being enforced nationwide. 

    We look forward to the vaccine, but presently do not have the accurate information when it will be introduced in the country. Being optimistic, we assume the access to the vaccine should be in spring or summer 2021, but it is still an assumption.  

    Meanwhile, we’re adhering to social distancing and mask-wearing. 

    Erick Hernandez-Bogantes, MD

    Costa Rica

    With the arrival of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 23, Costa Rica was among the first 10 countries worldwide that started vaccination. 

    As of early January 2021, Costa Rica had a total of 173,591 confirmed cases and 2,248 unfortunate casualties, with a fatality rate of 1.3% (44.97 deaths per 100,000 people).

    The Costa Rican Social Security Fund and the Ministry of Health are responsible for the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, dividing the population into five groups for giving priority for vaccination.

    First to be vaccinated are the health personnel who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients and the elderly living in nursing homes.

    The year 2020 was marked with unprecedented challenges and change. We’re working to overcome obstacles, but there is still a long way to go.

    Hasan Naveed, MD

    England

    The United Kingdom has been preparing and pushing for a regimented, countrywide vaccination rollout since vaccine approvals were granted at the end of 2020.

    Hospitals in the severely affected areas were promptly able to start vaccinating the vulnerable and frontline health care staff as a priority. Fortunately, I received the first dose of Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine on Dec. 30, 2020, but the second dose has been delayed until further notice.

    There has been last-minute national guidance issued to postpone the second dose for a minimum of 12 weeks to ensure most of the population receives the first dose. As of now, Britain is deep in the third lockdown, with hospitalizations spiking daily, and the National Health Service faces tremendous pressure to treat all patients. However, there is hope as three vaccines have now been approved: Pfizer/BioNtech, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna.

    There is much momentum to get the population vaccinated to allow society to reopen as quickly as possible.

    About the Authors

    Lawrence Pui Leung Iu, MBBS, MPH, is an associate consultant in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Prince of Wales Hospital, Hong Kong and honorary clinical assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is an elected council member of Hong Kong Ophthalmological Society, chairman of the Public Education and Social Service Committee and committee member of Hong Kong Young Ophthalmologists.

    Nicolás Crim, MD, is a retina and vitreous specialist, professor in ophthalmology at the Universidad Católica de Córdoba and a member of Sanatorio del Salvador ophthalmology department.

    Lana Datuashvili, MD, is a pediatric ophthalmologist in Georgia and the editor of the European Society of Ophthalmology (SOE) YO Newsletter.

    Erick Hernandez-Bogantes, MD, is a cornea and refractive surgeon in Costa Rica.

    Hasan Naveed is an ophthalmology trainee in the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Deanery, United Kingdom.