Kaieteur News – There is some confusion as to whether vaccines are supposed to prevent you from contracting the coronavirus. The vaccines were designed to prevent infections but no vaccine is 100 percent going to have the desired impact.
The vaccines, which were developed, have been a great scientific achievement. It takes years normally for a vaccine to be developed but most of the coronavirus vaccines, which have been approved for local use, were developed in less than one year, a monumental achievement by the scientific community.
China, where the vaccine is believed to have originated played a major role in shortening the time needed to develop the vaccine. It was China, which sequenced the genome of the virus from as early as February and shared this with the international community, thus reducing the time needed to understand the virus’ structure. The decoding of the virus allowed for a shortcut to the development of a vaccine.
However, the West was insistent that the necessary trials had to be conducted. The vaccine first had to be tested on animals, then on a small population, and then on much larger population – stage 3 trials. If stage 3 trials could have been skipped, a vaccine could have been developed and available for jabs as early as September. Some countries, including China and Russia began administering doses even before their Stage 3 trials had expired.
The vaccines, which have been developed, have had high levels of efficacy. Some have reached as high as 90 percent after the second dose. The World Health Organization (WHO) had said that for vaccines to be approved they must have efficacy rates of 50 percent or higher. Most of the vaccines we have in Guyana have proven efficacy rates in trials higher than 70 percent.
But none have 100 percent. This means that some persons despite being vaccinated are likely to still get infected. On average two to three out of every 10 persons can be infected given the efficacy levels of the vaccine. But research has shown that vaccination was also highly effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths. In June, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States had found that 99.5 percent of the deaths over the previous few months were the unvaccinated.
This did not mean that the vaccinated were not becoming seriously sick or dying. But the incidence was extremely small and rare. In other words, vaccines were not perfect but they offered significant protection to the vaccinated population.
The Delta variant appears to have changed the equation. The Delta variant has been estimated to be twice as transmissible as other variants but it was not clear whether it was most deadly.
When a person gets vaccinated and gets infected or dies this is called breakthrough cases and breakthrough deaths respectively. This is because despite being vaccinated the person has still contracted the virus or died.
But these breakthrough cases are extremely low. They may appear higher in absolute numbers because of the fast number of persons who are now being infected by what is believed to be the Delta variant. But if you examine the death rate relative to the infection rate, it cannot necessarily be said that the death rate has increased appreciably because of the Delta variant.
Breakthrough cases have also been found to be mostly the elderly who are vaccine compromised. As such, despite being vaccinated some persons’ immune systems are not strong enough to prevent hospitalisation or death.
The high incidence of the elderly and immune-compromised being infected has led to a debate as to whether booster shots are needed. The United Kingdom appears to be moving towards booster shots of the vaccine for those above the age of 50.
The trends in breakthrough cases are all the more reason why the local Minister of Health should develop a strategy, which targets the elderly. The government needs to ensure that all elderly persons above the age of 50, not 62, are fully vaccinated. And they should send surveyors house-to-house to try to encourage the elderly to be vaccinated.
There is a problem however with the Sputnik V second doses. Many persons are still awaiting second doses, including some elderly. The problem is that it takes four times as long to produce one of the elements of the second dose than it takes for the first dose. As a result of the production problem, second doses have been delayed. But that problem is expected to be resolved soon.
In Guyana, some individuals are refusing to take the vaccines because they say that the vaccinated can still be infected. That is true but only a small fraction will develop breakthrough infections. The stats are showing that the overwhelming majority of the vaccinated will not be infected, especially if they practice social distancing and other safety precautions such as hand washing and wearing a mask.
There are also concerns as to how long immunity lasts. Both Pfizer and Moderna are reporting the immunity declines by about six percent after two months. If more research shows a continuous pattern of decline of immunity, then third shots will become necessary for all and not only those above the age of 50 years.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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