The Perspective by Edward Bwalya Phiri: dispelling fears surrounding the COVID – 19 vaccines, Part 2

Author Jamais Cascio once opined that, “The crisis we face about ‘truth’ and reliable facts is predicated less on the ability to get people to believe the ‘wrong’ thing as it is on the ability to get people to ‘doubt’ the right thing.” And the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres once advised and rightly so, that, “What the world needs now is solidarity. With solidarity we can defeat the [Corona] virus and build a better world.”

On The Perspective today, we continue looking at some of the commonest fears about the vaccines. And among them are that “the COVID-19 vaccines irreversibly alter the genetic makeup of the recipients, thereby rendering them Genetically Modified Organisms [GMOs], that the vaccines cause autoimmune disorders [immunological self-attacks] that will ultimately lead to the demise of all vaccine recipients and that the vaccines are not necessarily the panacea to COVID-19.

The foregoing fears are as a result of the apparent lack of a global consensus on the efficacy and safety of these life-saving vaccines. While many reputable organisations and individuals are busy trying to promote the equal distribution and administering of the vaccines, there are others who are opposing the move on the premise that these vaccines are ineffective and unsafe, and must therefore be avoided at all costs.

Among those opposed to the idea of the COVID-19 vaccines are professionals in the medical field and some of them wield so much influence and therefore command a large following. Prominent among these COVID-19 antagonists are the retired Thai – German microbiologist Dr Sucharit Bhakdi, Prof. Dr. Arne Burkhardt and American serial entrepreneur and former funder of COVID-19 vaccines, Steve Kirsch, who recently published an article about a study that has not yet been peer reviewed [a preprint], where it was claimed that the vaccines cause 93 per cent of deaths that occur after inoculation.

Both the academia and the medical practitioners have questioned the accuracy of the study that was alleged to have been conducted by Prof. Burkhardt, seeing that it only consisted of an insignificant sample size of a paltry 15 [cases] individuals, compared to millions of people around the globe who have so far received the said vaccines. Notwithstanding the status of the published information, the results of the study cannot be generalised to represent the global population because of the serious limitations of this single study.
And according to a factcheck by Reuters, University of Edinburgh’s Professor of Immunopathology, Neil Mabbott feared that, “many non-specialist readers wont necessarily be aware of the distinction [between] a preprint – a version of a scientific manuscript posted on a public server prior to formal peer review and a peer-reviewed study published in scientific journal, as so much important coronavirus related data has been released as preprints.”

It is this situation that has caused a kerfuffle among the global citizenry. This article therefore will comment on three of the common fears of the people about the COVID-19 vaccines;

1. mRNA vaccines alter genetic make up

One major reason for the vaccine hesitance is the fear that many people are dying from vaccines. It is alleged that the COVID-19 vaccines [the mRNA based, especially] alter the genetic make of the body thereby turning them into GMOs and that this process cannot be reversed, but can only end in fatalities.

However, the American CDC has assured that these, “mRNA vaccines are safe and effective, mRNA vaccines have been held to the same rigorous safety and effectiveness standards external icon as all other types of vaccines.”

And the CDC has added that, “They [vaccines] do not affect or interact with our DNA in any way: mRNA never enters the nucleus of the cell where our DNA [genetic material] is located, so it cannot change or influence our genes. The mRNA and the spike protein don’t last long in the body; our cells break down mRNA and get rid of it within a few days after vaccination.”

In addition, this is not the first time these mRNA based vaccines are being used. According to the CDC, “mRNA vaccines have been studied before for flue, Zika, rabies, and cytomegalovirus [CMV]. As soon as the necessary information about the virus that causes COVID-19 was available, scientists began designing the mRNA instructions for the cells to build the unique spike protein into an mRNA vaccine.”

2. Auto immune disorders [immunological self – attacks]

Basically, the concern here is about the immunogenicity of the vaccine, or how the vaccine will work over time; looking at the kind of responses that will be generated and the magnitude there of. The concern is also about the reactogenicity [common or expected response] of the vaccine, and how severe the situation will be.

And so, the concern here is that COVID-19 vaccines are gene based and so they will confuse the immune system to start destroying the vital organs of the body and this will ultimately result in fatalities among those vaccinated. This condition is known as autoimmune disorder and proponents of this notion claim that after inoculation, the immune system will end up attacking the body organs mistaking them to be foreign, this is because these organs will start producing some spike proteins similar to a pathogen.

But the World Health Organisation [WHO] has revealed that these vaccines do not in any way endanger the recipients, except for mild side effects. WHO further reveals that “Vaccines train your immune system to create antibodies, just as it does when it’s exposed to a disease.”

Further, Wolfgang W. Leitner et al [1999] asserts that, “DNA vaccination has become the fastest growing field in vaccine technology following reports at the beginning of the 90s that plasmid DNA induces an immune response to the plasmid-encoded antigen. This unexpectedly successful new method is considered by some to be one of the most important discoveries in the history of vaccinology.

3. Vaccines not a panacea to COVID-19

In order to appreciate whether or not the COVID-19 vaccine are a curative remedy to the disease, there is a need to appreciate the effectiveness or efficacy of the vaccines. According to the Wikipedia; “vaccine efficacy or effectiveness is the percentage reduction of disease cases in a vaccinated group….Vaccine efficacy was designed and calculated by Greenwood and Yule in 1915 for cholera and typhoid vaccines…. Vaccine efficacy studies are used to measure several important and critical outcomes of interest such as disease attack rates, hospitalisations due to the disease, deaths due to the disease, asymptomatic infection, serious adverse events due to vaccination, vaccine reactogenicity [expected adverse reactions and associated signs and symptoms], and cost effectiveness of the vaccine.”
Statistics are there to show how effective the COVID-19 vaccines have been so far, going by the set vaccine efficacy standards. For instance, in South Africa, these vaccines have been hailed for proving to be effective. The Health Minister Dr Joseph Phaahla revealed at a media briefing that, “As things stand the vaccines are showing to be very strong in protecting against severe disease.” Dr Phaala further disclosed that 70 per cent of the people admitted to hospital in the fourth wave [which is mainly Omicron driven] are unvaccinated against COVID-19.
This situation is similar to Zambia, where severe sickness, hospitalisation and ultimately fatalities have reduced among those who are fully inoculated against COVID-19. Government, through the Ministry of Health, reported that at least 80 per cent of those hospitalised in the fourth wave of COVID-19 were unvaccinated. This is so encouraging. It is therefore a responsibility of every person to spread this good news ‘far and near’ us. Others are already doing it, we can also do it regardless of where we are.

The world today is grappling with a lot of challenges. Our only hope in this pandemic is in the accelerated vaccination and is the responsibility for everyone to encourage others to be vaccinated so that we can achieve the global target or head immunity.

In encouraging the business community to be part of this fight, Joshua Bolten urged that, “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have devastating impacts on the livelihood of millions of Americans, but as the historic vaccine rollout gets underway, there is increased reason for optimism. And the business community has an important role to play in sharing with employees and the broader communities where they operate the importance of vaccination to help defeat the pandemic and lead our country [the world] towards a robust economic recovery.”

Allow me to end with a quote from the late former UN Secretary General, the late Kofi Annan, who once said that, “More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together.” For today I will end here; it’s Au revoir, from EBP.

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