Circus Ringmaster grateful for vaccine

The Magic Circus of Samoa ringmaster Tupai Bruno Loyale has had his first shot of the Oxford University AstraZeneca vaccine and is urging others to follow suit.

On Tuesday morning, he said he had done his research, considered the benefits far outweigh the risks, and was excited for life to get back to normal when enough people are vaccinated.

“The first thing we are going to do is get our performers ready and head to the French islands of Tahiti and New Caledonia. We just bought all new equipment from Italy and we haven’t used it, it’s especially for the French Islands,” he told the Samoa Observer.

“They’re ready for us, they miss us, so we’re excited.”

Tupai visited the World Health Organisation office clinic in Motootua, where he was allowed to receive the vaccine. 

Nurse Koreti Aiono delivered his immunisation without him even noticing it had happened.

Afterward, he said that around him, friends and families are nervous to get the vaccine. He wanted to show them that it is safe, and that they should think about getting it too.

Even his driver and security Danne Suena is nervous about the effects the vaccine will have on him, Mr. Suena said.

“I think everyone is a little bit skeptical in the beginning when a vaccine is new when it is first released,” Tupai said.

“But you are looking at the millions of people who have already had this vaccine, the AstraZeneca, and the percentage of the problems is so minute, it’s so, so small.

“If you don’t do it, you are putting yourself in danger and other people also. God Willing, this thing will not come to Samoa, but if it does, at least Samoa can be protected if we take the vaccine.”

He hopes his wide reach and following will encourage others to take the leap and take their shot when they are invited to after the first group of frontline workers and health workers are vaccinated.

 “I know a lot of kids, parents, they know me because of the circus and I just wanted to show them that I am not scared to do it.

“I feel it’s very safe to do and I want them to get vaccinated because it will save lives.”

He said he is excited for Samoa’s tourism industry to start recovering too when travel is freely possible again.

Samoa started its vaccine rollout on Sunday, with 24,000 doses of the vaccine that have a shelf-life of a month and a half.

In this context, Samoa will vaccinate all its frontline and healthcare workers first, and then open up to anyone else aged 18 and over who wants to be immunised.

They will get just one dose each for now, and after 12 weeks be invited to receive their second dose of the two-shot vaccine.

That second dose has already been scheduled, with patients leaving the clinic with a date card. Tupai’s next dose is scheduled for Tuesday 15 June.

Samoa is among many countries using the AstraZeneca vaccine. Several have suspended its use while they investigate the links between the vaccine use and rare cases of blood clots.

So far, the risk of developing a fatal blood clot from the vaccine is estimated to be one in a million, according to the United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (M.H.R.A.).

Meanwhile, the chances of a fatal blood clot in someone infected with COVID-19 is said to be about nine times higher.

University of Auckland vaccinologist Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris has said the incidences have been extremely rare, and turned up late in the vaccine's global use. 

“If something is relatively common, you’re going to pick it up earlier with fewer people. This has taken longer because it’s quite rare,” she told Radio New Zealand earlier this month.

“If there is going to be a link, rare is better than common. It also shows that the systems in place to detect something like this are working and it has been picked up. You do the assessments, unpack it, see what’s going on and figure out where to go from here.

“Even now it’s very clear that the benefits of the vaccine still far outweigh the risks.”

European Medicines Agency has said the “overall benefits of the [AstraZeneca] vaccine in preventing COVID-19 outweigh the risks of side effects.”

Dr. Petousis-Harris is a past chair of the World Health Organisation's Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, and an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland.

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