Dr. Miriam Laker-Oketta
This year in July, the world celebrated 100 years of the Bacille Calmette and Geurin (BCG) vaccine which is the vaccine against tuberculosis (TB). According to data from widespread research, the BCG vaccine has reduced TB worldwide by up to 50%. The surprising thing about this vaccine
though is that in spite of its success, efficacy is less than that of most vaccines – at its best, the efficacy is 80% while in some cases, it is as low as 0%. This tells a very important story. Vaccines never offer 100% guarantee of preventing us from catching or spreading the disease it is supposed to protect us from. However, what they promise is that they will definitely protect some people from developing the disease even when they are exposed to it. They will also ensure that most people who are vaccinated, should they get infected will have a much milder form of the disease than they would have had, had they not been vaccinated. They further reduce the risk of spreading the disease in a vaccinated person, because of the
antibodies (cells that fight the disease that are stimulated by the vaccine, the germs do not multiply as much as they would have had had they not found the body prepared to fight off the disease.) The more germs one has, the more they spread the disease to other people. The other thing vaccines promise is that when the majority of the population is vaccinated, besides protecting those who are vaccinated from the disease, they also protect those people who for whatever reason are not vaccinated. This is a phenomenon called herd immunity.
What is herd immunity?
Using the example of Covid-19, imagine a scenario of a community, for instance a Church. When Covid-19 pandemic started, no one in the community was vaccinated against it, many of us fell sick and many died. If a large number of the community had been vaccinated, the story would have been different.
Why was the vaccine developed so fast and yet all other vaccines were developed over several years?
I will ask you the same question. Why does it take such a short time these days to create a new model of a car from scratch and yet it took years for the first car to be perfected? The answer is exactly the same as that to the vaccine question. The initial development of vaccines was completely new technology. You
may remember that the first vaccine (small pox vaccine) was developed by
the scientist, Louis Pasteur injecting pus from cow pox on healthy humans
and after they had fallen sick, exposing them to small pox. At the time, it was rudimentary and while it worked, several pitfalls were embedded.
Over decades, the techniques used for development of vaccines have been
studied intensely so much so that today when a new disease emerges,
the standard procedures are already in place for how to develop and test the vaccine and only modify it to the target organism. What takes time now is that not all germs respond to the vaccine modalities developed for them.For instance, malaria and HIV. Vaccine development and testing for these two have been going on for several years but unsuccessfull because these germs mutate/change so rapidly. Also for influenza, the vaccines
have to be reformatted annually because every year the strains change.
So what about Covid-19?
While Covid-19 is a new virus, it is related to viruses that are known in the
SARs family of viruses. That means a lot about how this virus’ structure is known and in addition to the advancement in the knowledge of how vaccines are developed allowed the vaccine to be developed in record time of under one year. Unfortunately, because of rampant conspiracy theories, the uptake of the vaccine has been extremely low. Therefore, most communities do not have enough people vaccinated to induce herd immunity. There have been multiple talks about the side effects and dear readers it is true. All medicines have side effects. Can you
believe that the paracetamol (panadol, hedex, kamadol, calpol etc) that we so easily pick from any drug shop without doctors’ prescription can cause fatal liver damage? The vaccines that we all ensure that our babies get cause side effects, sometimes even severe ones. For instance, allergic reactions and even polio is known to result from the vaccine itself in some children.
Why do we then still get vaccinated?
Because we know that the risk of getting side effects is far much lower than the risk of actually getting the disease and the outcomes of the disease are usually far much worse than that of the vaccine side effects. There are several conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 vaccine and this is allowing the virus to thrive in our communities. Consider for instance the last wave of Covid-19 in Uganda, the majority of those who fell sick and needed to be admitted were not vaccinated and they accounted for more than 90% of the deaths from Covid-19. This is the same scenario all over the world. I therefore encourage you dear reader who has not yet been vaccinated
to re-examine yourself. Why have you made the decision not to get vaccinated? Do you have all the facts?
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