Vaccination delay undermines lockdown purpose

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A strict lockdown has been imposed in Mongolia at 6:00 p.m. on April 10 and it will last 15 days, until April 25. This is a government measure to protect the population from COVID-19 infection and reduce risks, they reported. If the lockdown is not imposed, it is estimated that infections would rise by the thousands and around 20 deaths will be reported each day by mid-April.

Experts estimate that the peak of infection will occur in early May, in the second week, with 3,000 or more cases per day. Therefore, the authorities explained that the government “had to” impose a lockdown to protect the health of the people. In conjunction with the lockdown, the prime minister announced to provide a one-time assistance of 300,000 MNT to each citizen. Distribution of the assistance is being conducted within 10 days through existing welfare accounts and other means. A total of 1.2 trillion MNT is being spent on the welfare. This is the first time he government distributed cash to all citizens in relation to COVID-19.

Many businesses and people resisted the lockdown, but the government decided to provide cash benefits during this period to ease public opposition. Most importantly, people want this quarantine to be the last, to be more effective than previous strict lockdowns. But this lockdown is controversial from the beginning. Many people are afraid that the lockdown, which was imposed at the expense of income of many businesses and the distribution of large amounts of money, will be in vain.

Vaccination put on hold

About the lockdown, Prime Minister L.Oyun-Erdene first announced on April 8 that the government had decided to impose a strict lcokdown in order not to undermine the quality of vaccination. He reported that vaccination will be intensified during the lockdown. “We will intensify immunization during lockdown. The first dose of immunization will be given for all adults in Ulaanbaatar on May 1 and in provinces by June 1. We have set a goal to fully immunize all Mongolian adults by July 1. Let’s get actively involved in immunization and welcome the summer together without infection.”

But on the evening of April 9, the government’s decision and the purpose of the lockdown changed dramatically. The Ministry of Health announced that it would suspend immunization for 15 days. They explained that the reason for the postponement of immunization is that the quarantine will not be effective due to the concentration of people at vaccination venues and increase the risk of spreading the infection.

Deputy Prime Minister S.Amarsaikhan reported that the break of vaccination wasn’t caused by lack of vaccine supply, and the the decision was made to ensure strict compliance with the infection control regime.

“A strict lockdown was imposed because the number of cases increased, and there is a high risk. The strict lockdown is in place to reduce the spread of infection, not to reduce the effectiveness of vaccination efforts, and to reduce outbreaks.”

“I urge you to make the 15-day lockdown as effective as possible. We are following the recommendations of the Ministry of Health and experts that vaccination should not be carried out during lockdown. Vaccine stocks have not been depleted.”

“There are 192,000 vaccines in stock. Infections were reported in 19 provinces. The effectiveness of the lockdown will be reduced if vaccination will be carried out during the strict quarantine period due to the increase in outbreaks.”

“Vaccination will be intensified again on April 25. As of today, there are some stocks of vaccines, but the import of 300,000 doses of vaccine, which was expected to arrive on April 9 and 12 have been delayed for some time. We do not hide information from our citizens.”

A total of 600,000 doses of the Chinese vaccine were scheduled to be received, but it was postponed. However, officials say that the suspension of the vaccine wasn’t caused by depleted reserves. But many doubt this explanation.

Officials reported that Mongolia has 192,000 doses of vaccine, including 82,000 doses of AstraZeneca, 12,800 doses of Pfizer and 97,200 doses of VeroCell as of April 10. Actually, this is only three days’ supply if 30,000 people are to be vaccinated as planned. Many people think that the government’s plan to intensity vaccination failed due to vaccine shortage.

Vaccination shortages have been reported in countries around the world. Of the 669.2 million adults vaccinated in 161 countries, Israel leads the world as it has laready immunized 61 percent of its population. The United States, one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers, has vaccinated 34 percent of its population. It is not surprising that vaccine stocks in Mongolia have been depleted at a time when the few manufacturers are overwhelmed.

Second doses of vaccination delayed

In Mongolia, about 599,100 people have been vaccinated since the prime minister and the minister of health received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on February 23. The administration of the second dose, which would better guarantee protection against COVID-19, was supposed to begin during the lockdown period. When taking the first dose, doctors and specialists instructed the public to get the second dose on time. However, the government has stated that it will vaccination will be put on hold during lockdown, asserting that delaying the second dose won’t compromise the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Many people are worried that delaying the second dose of the vaccine would undermine its effectiveness.

Health Minister S.Enkhbold claimed, “Initially, the gap between the first and second doses of the vaccine was 28 days. However, due to the current situation, we have clarified the information about the vaccine through the ambassador of China in Mongolia. There is official indication that the second dose of the VeroCell vaccine can be administered in 21 to 56 days, which will not affect the immune system.”

“Samples are being taken from the people who received the first dose. To some extent, antibodies are formed in the immune system. People have to understand that vaccination is delayed, resulting in a slight delay in the second dose. There are 207,000 people to be revaccinated between April 10 and 25. As of April 10, 850 people had received the second dose. Many scientists have suggested that the second dose of the vaccine be given within 21 to 56 days after the first dose.”

Minister of Finance B.Javkhlan said, “Vaccinated people are registered in Ebarimat with their registration numbers. As of April 10, about 192,000 doses of vaccines are in stock. Geopolitically, we want to keep the exact date of vaccination a secret. Many countries around the world are competing for vaccines. There are no serious problems, such as a shortage of vaccine stocks. In May and June, 60 percent of the population will be immunized as planned.”

   Head of the Government Press Service Ts.Ganzorig highlighted, “We believe that the first dose of the vaccine will provide 40 to 60 percent immunity, and we aim to cover as many people as possible and protect them from infection and complications. More than 800 people who received the first dose became infected, but their health condition is mild. In connection with vaccine import, at least 60,000 people will be immunized daily at more than 160 venues after April 25.”

Not only in Mongolia, but also in other countries, the gap between first and second doses of vaccine was compromised and is the subject of controversy among scientists.

Foreign media outlets such as NYPost, Tass, GulfNews, and BBC have provided information on the acceptable gap between the doses of the following vaccines introduced in Mongolia.

Prizer - The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine should be given at least 21 days later. It is possible to take a second dose after more than 21 days.

Sputnik - At least 21 days after the first shot, a second dose should be administered. Immunity develops 42 days after the first dose on average. If you become infected after the first dose, you will be tested for antibodies three to six months later to decide whether a second shot should be administered.

Sinopharm - On average, the second dose should be adminsiter after 21 to 28 days. In some cases, 21 to 56 days after.

Sinovak – The second dose should be administered 28 days after the first.

AstraZeneca - Four to 12 weeks or longer is considered more effective.

Based on the resources available, the entire capital city was expected to be fully vaccinated during lockdown, but due to the rapid spread of the infection in provinces, it is now necessary to vaccinate provincial doctors and staff working during the pandemic. In addition, there have been reports that immunizations have been delayed due to delayed vaccine delivery.

Although the government has said that the vaccination delay is not a matter of resources and that delaying the second shot is of no consequence, many are not convinced.

The government, State Emergency Commission and Ministry of Health have announced plans to increase the vaccination to 60,000 people per day from April 25. They reported that vaccination is planned to be intensified after the lockdown. As of today, 600,000 people have been vaccinated since February 23, with a maximum of 50,000 people vaccinated per day at one point.

As soon as the quarantine is lifted, the number of immunization venues will increased to 160, and around 60,000 people are to be given a shot per day, according to officials. However, the stated purpose of the lockdown, which has been extremely costly, is unclear. In addition, the government’s inability support its claims and make up its mind is causing confusion and doubts.

The facts show that there are not enough vaccine stocks. Government decisions are likely to be resource-related. Many fear that the lockdown will be ineffective as vaccination is delayed. The government and State Emergency Commission need to explain the reality to the public in a timely and accurate manner.

Enkhnaranjav Tumurbaatar