Important Article on the AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine and Autoimmune and Liver Diseases; Please Get Vaccinated!

Editor’s note: Simerg does not generally publish or encourage anonymous articles on any of its websites but in this particular case we have decided to protect the author’s identity, as it concerns a health matter. The editor has verified the content of the article, and wishes to assure readers that the facts that are noted by the author are correct. Any oversight or error is unintentional and is deeply regretted.

Ontario began rolling out the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in select pharmacies and doctor offices across the province to people over the age of 60 on Monday, March 22, 2021. Yesterday, a mass vaccination clinic was opened in Thorncliffe Park at the the East York Town Centre on Overlea Blvd, and I decided to visit the location. It was jam packed with cars as hundreds of seniors who qualify under Phase One showed up to get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, after registering through the website of Michael Garron Hospital. I did not qualify under the Phase 1 criteria and would have to wait my turn at East York Town Centre and other mass vaccination sites.

However, another avenue had opened up to acquire the vaccine in Toronto, and that was through one of the designated pharmacies. There was one near the place where I stay that was offering the AstraZeneca vaccine. As I began completing the registration form, I wondered whether my responses to questions concerning my health, for example whether I had a chronic health condition, would disqualify me from getting the AstraZeneca vaccine. I completed the form and submitted it, hoping for the best.

I then followed my application with a phone call to the pharmacist offering the vaccine, and informed the pharmacist about my Autoimmune Hepatitis condition or AIH (this occurs when your body’s infection-fighting system, or the immune system, attacks your liver cells and causes permanent and irreversible liver damage. In acute cases, the liver may heal itself as a regenerating organ).

The cause of AIH has not yet been determined but from what I am learning more and more people, including very young people, are acquiring AIH. The pharmacist had a long list of autoimmune conditions that would still qualify individuals getting AstraZeneca vaccine, but AIH was not among the ones listed. He declined my request, based on the guidelines he had in front of him and suggested that I should go with Pfizer-BioNTech when it became available to me. However the eligibility criteria meant that I would have to wait for a few to several weeks based on the phase 2 or 3 roll-out.

On the weekend of Navroz, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in his Talika or written message to the Ismailis, clearly stated that “my Jamat should not give credence to any misinformation regarding the vaccination process, and comparisons between the different officially sanctioned vaccines that are now available.” He also said, “I recommend that all my murids should accept to be vaccinated in accordance with the directives of their respective health authorities as soon as the vaccines are offered — as indeed I have done already.”

In view of Canada’s approval of AstraZeneca vaccine, I then met my local doctor, as my pharmacist had declined the vaccine to me because of my AIH condition. My doctor was convinced from the research that she had carried out that I was perfectly OK to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. I even read out what Mawlana Hazar Imam had said, and she agreed with him. She said she would be writing to the pharmacist to give me the vaccine, but recommended I also speak to my hepatologist.

Earlier that morning I had actually called and left a message with the offices of the liver clinic, AIH section, at the Toronto General Hospital concerning AstraZeneca. Some hours later I got a phone call from the liver clinic encouraging me to take AstraZeneca when it was made available to me. I was also provided with a link to a letter the liver clinic had issued on its website (read LETTER). Subsequently my doctor forwarded an email to the pharmacist requesting the AstraZeneca vaccine to me.

There had been a cancellation, and I willingly took up the spot that was offered to me on the following day. When I arrived at the pharmacy, I was asked a few questions including any chronic condition. I also read the list of autoimmune diseases at the reception table that qualified for the vaccine. Of course, AIH was not on the list, but the pharmacist had already received my doctor’s approval for the AstraZeneca jab. There was a little bit of a wait but the jab that I got on my left arm took less than 3 seconds to administer. I was asked to hang around in the pharmacy for 15 minutes, in case of any reaction. I was then provided with a letter, as a kind of a receipt, in which I noted that the vaccine was listed as COVISHIELD, which is another name used by AstraZeneca. I reminded myself about adhering to the guidelines about social distancing, washing hands and wearing a mask, even though I had been vaccinated.

I did not know how long a wait it would be for the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vacciness, and am glad I went for the AstraZeneca shot after my reluctance for several days. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Talika with precise guidelines was the determining factor. The Government of Canada had already sanctioned AstraZeneca but, until I read the Talika, there was doubt in my mind over getting the vaccine.

For individuals facing autoimmune hepatitis or other serious liver issues, please be advised that the liver clinic at the Toronto General Hospital recommends that you get vaccinated. I conclude this piece with the following 5 important points from their document (and this applies to Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna as well as AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines):

• Having liver disease does not increase your risk of experiencing a side effect;
• The medications you take for your liver disease, including any immunosuppression [Prednisone, Azathioprine — author], should not be a reason to decline a vaccine, but may have a small effect on how well the vaccine protects you;
• People with liver disease, especially cirrhosis and possibly fatty liver, are at higher risk of getting very sick if they get COVID-19 infection, making it even more important to be vaccinated and be protected;
• The vaccines are over 90% protective against symptomatic COVID-19; and
• The vaccines have been studied in people with liver disease with no safety concerns identified.

I once again remind readers of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s messages: “… Jamat should not give credence to any misinformation regarding the vaccination process, and comparisons between the different officially sanctioned vaccines that are now available”, and “I recommend that all my murids should accept to be vaccinated in accordance with the directives of their respective health authorities as soon as the vaccines are offered — as indeed I have done already.”

Date posted: March 25, 2021.


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Is Research Underway at the Aga Khan University to Find a Cure for Covid-19?

Letter from publisher

(Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

Many of our readers who have visited the website of the Aga Khan University (AKU) over the past 2 weeks, may have read about (1) the crucial support AKU needs at this time during the COVID-19 pandemic; (2) Dr. Faisal Mahmoud at the AKU who treated Pakistan’s first COVID-19 patient; and (3) the AKU’s launching of a mobile app that helps to self-screen for Covid-19. You can follow these and other informative stories of how the AKU is dealing with the COVID-19 crisis by clicking HERE. I have been wondering whether the AKU, like other institutions around the world including several in Canada, is racing to find a vaccine for COVID-19. It’s very possible that there is already an initiative underway, but I have yet to read about it.

I would like to start by briefly mentioning the incredible steps that our beloved 48th Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, took in response to the bubonic plague that affected India in 1897. (See full article HERE or an abbreviated version HERE)

The twenty-year-old Imam aided Professor Haffkinez’s research for the development of a vaccine by putting freely at the scientist’s disposal one of his “biggest houses, a vast, rambling palace in Bombay.” The scientist remained there for about two years until the Government of India, convinced of the success of his methods, took over the whole research project and put it on a proper, adequate and official footing.

Portrait His Highness the Aga Khan
Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1885-1957), 48th Imam of Ismaili Muslims. Photo: © National Portrait Gallery London, photograph by Elliott & Fry.

Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah writes in his Memoirs that “the impact of the plague among my own people was alarming. It was in my power to set an example. I had myself publicly inoculated, and I took care to see that the news of what I had done was spread as far as possible and as quickly as possible….The immunity, of which my continued health and my activities were obvious evidence, impressed itself on their consciousness and conquered their fear.”

At that time, the Imam did not have Jamati institutions at his disposal to support such an initiative. At the turn of the 19th century, the Ismaili Jamat was economically weak, and educationally even worse off. Very few members of the Jamat could boast a knowledge of the three R’s.

Then, over a period of some 50 years, the 48th Imam transformed the community from rags to riches, an act that is probably unparalleled in history. The Imam was the architect of the modern miracle that we continue to witness today under the benevolent guidance of Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan.

His Highness the Aga Khan in University regalia
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in the Aga Khan University regalia. Photo: The Aga Khan Development Network.

Today, the Jamat is eminently placed on the world stage with its fantastic infrastructure. It has become socially well-organised, professionally competitive, and commercially adventurous. More importantly, the Jamat’s youth is conscious of its strength and ready for any new challenge. We have become a dynamic, intrepid community capable of bearing further loads under the guidance of Mawlana Hazar Imam. He has created exceptional institutions for the well being and progress of the Jamat and humanity at large.

During his Imamat, the establishment of the Aga Khan University in Karachi is probably one of the most significant and monumental projects undertaken in Ismaili history. Its creation and development has led to satellite hospitals and universities in East Africa, and a major mountain university in Central Asia. Over the last 4 decades, the AKU has achieved an international presence and recognition in the world of learning with major educational institutions as its partners — a vision that was first enshrined in the logo of the university.

According to the AKU website, the University’s research endeavours extend across diverse subjects: health sciences, education, culture and society. “At the core of our mission,” the website states, “is the desire to spearhead change for generations to come.” It further adds that the AKU faculty, scientists, educationists and students are engaged in impacting people, communities and societies for a better tomorrow.​​​ It gives an example of the Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research which houses international researchers conducting state of the art research and teaching in basic and translational stem cell science.

Today, we are in the midst of a worldwide crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic. We have already witnessed its social, cultural, and economical impact on billions of people around the world. We don’t want it to remain with us and plague us for years to come, and a vaccine that will address the virus is the only solution we have for our future well-being. In the USA, the cost of a complete COVID-19 treatment for people who are hospitalized is around US $39,000.

The Seal of the Aga Khan University
The circular form of the Aga Khan University Seal, with its different levels of imagery contained in concentric circles, has its visual roots in the rosettes of early Islamic periods. The circle symbolises the world and reflects the international presence of the University. At the centre of the Seal is a star, or sun. Light is a universal symbol for the enlightenment that education provides.The light emanating from the star is also symbolic of Nur (Divine light).

The development of a vaccine may require millions of dollars, and efforts at developing one may not guarantee that it will be one that is selected for massive immunization. Today, researchers at the AKU, as well as others around the world, have access to the genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Additionally, lab-grown copies of the virus are available to researchers thanks to the efforts made to isolate and culture the virus from two patients by the University of Toronto and McMaster University.

An aerial view of the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan. The University was chartered as Pakistan’s first private international university in 1983. Photo: Aga Khan Development Network.

If they have not already done so, it is important that the AKU join the collaborative efforts that are being spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), where scientists, physicians, funders and manufacturers from around the world are coming together to help expedite the formulation of a vaccine against COVID-19. In its declaration of April 13, to which several renowned institutions are signatories, the WHO states that “we believe these efforts will help reduce inefficiencies and duplication of effort, and we will work tenaciously to increase the likelihood that one or more safe and effective vaccines will soon be made available to all”.

While a vaccine will take time to develop, it will likely be instrumental in controlling this worldwide pandemic. We hope that the Aga Khan University will dedicate some of its research facility and scientists to the development of a vaccine against COVID-19. The AKU’s contribution may literally change the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world, just as Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s foresight was responsible for saving countless lives.

Date posted: April 14, 2020.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.


Simerg’s Merchant

Malik Merchant is the founding publisher/editor of Simerg (2009), Barakah (2017) and Simergphotos (2012). A former IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to small family projects and other passionate endeavours such as the publication of this website. He is the eldest son of the Late Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, who served Jamati institutions for several decades.

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