Covid 19 vaccines in Africa: Myths and facts
With the intentions of guiding the African population on matters related to the vaccines vis-a-vis the rumeurs and misinformation about Covid 19 vaccines, ICMICA Africa invited 06 experts in the field of Public Health, Infectious disease, etc. to explain about about the reality about the vaccines.
The first presentation was made by Dr. CHARLES LANGOYA OCHERO from South Sudan. He is a physician by training, a Member of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the United Kingdom and currently working as a medical microbiologist and infectious diseases physician in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, UK
He was a Secretary-General of IMCS South Sudan, then East African sub-regional coordinator. He became the International President of IMCS in Paris for 03 years.
Dr. Charles articulated his presentation around the history of the vaccine, the stage of development, the kinds of vaccines, and then concluded with Covid 19 vaccines.
The vaccine was initiated by Edward, an English surgeon. He is the first person who brought the concept of vaccination. 1796. From history, there has been a dark story of the vaccine which is affecting the trust of the people.
Stage of development:
There are 06 stages that a vaccine has to go through before its release for public use: Virus analysis, trying on animals, trying with few people, trying with thousands of people, approval body.
What are the different kinds of vaccines?
A vaccine can be made of a half of the DNA (RNA) or whole DNA or the whole virus or progeny / a particule being used to make the vaccine.
How about Covid 19 vaccines?
All vaccines that are available require two doses except Janssen. Oxford Astrazeneca, Pfizer, Moderna
The vaccine that is being used in almost all African countries is the Astra Zeneca due to the temperature required.
Who are involved in vaccine production?
Health professionals, manufacturers, academia, government agencies, media, individuals and communities.
After Charles Presentation about the vaccine, Dr Thandeka took the floor.
THANDEKA MOYO GWETE is a medical Doctor from Zimbabwe. She is a Senior scientist at the NICD (National Institute for Communicable Diseases) Johannesburg South Africa. The institute is looking at HIV antibody response, now at Covid response. Dr. Thandeka talked about the Future of Covid 19 in Africa
She stressed out that antibodies are important when we look at vaccines.
She presented that the phase of the vaccine usually takes 10 to 15 years.
The pre-explanatory and preclinical phase (2 to 3years), phase 1 to 3: clinical (6 to 9 years), approval (1 to 2 years), manufacturing and post-marketing, surveillance (1 to 2 years).
She said that the logistics have made the process longer. The Covid 19 vaccines have gone through all the required checking stages. The shortness of the duration of manufacturing has no impact on safety.
Moderna and Pfizer BioNTech are the first RNA vaccine that ever happened in the world. They are faster to make. They are cheaper. People in HIV research are looking into it.
South Africa started with Astra Zeneca but they shifted to Janssen later on. The advantage of the latter is because it requires only a dose and can be stored at refrigerated temperature.
She clarified to participants that a virus will always change. It mutates. That is why there are variants.
At the moment, there are variants originating from the United Kingdom, South Africa, New York, California, England, the Philippines, and Columbia.
The Covid 19 mutates very slowly compared to other viruses.
South Africa got the Astra Zeneca vaccine but they had to give it to another country later on because it is not effective with the new variant. This is a big concern.
Due to that, South Africa had started to make new vaccines based on the existing variant and the response was positive.
Dr Thandeka mentionned that there is a need to update the vaccine based on variants as time goes on. However, a vaccine is still the most effective way to eradicate the virus.
After Dr. Thandeka, Dr. Edward took the floor to talk about Covid vaccination community approaches and responses.
PROF EDWARD KUNONGA from Zimbabwe, Consultant in Public health and epidemiologist, Professor of public health and policy at Teesside University the United Kingdom.
He presented a disclaimer that he was not there to represent any institution and the session was not meant to convince the audience nor to change their mind but just to make sure that the right information is available to them and to give insights.
He stressed that as we deal with the pandemic, we also deal with Infodemic, much information that makes people confused. There are 03 types of Information disorders that have become very prevalent during the pandemic: Misinformation, disinformation and malinformation.
They are very important in terms of both the accuracy, the degree of the falseness of the information, and the intention to cause harm. Much information that has been circulated around is done by some people with the intention to deceive.
Usually, there are 05 categories people: those who accept all vaccines, those who accept with doubts, those who accept with delay, the vaccine refusers and the vaccine deniers.
He then proposed participants to use the BRAIN framework to enable them to take decision about the vaccine.
Benefits of taking this course of action:
Risks: what are the potential downsides if you take this course of action?
Alternative what could you do instead?
Instinct: does it make sense? Does it feel right?
Nothing: what if you do nothing?
Advantages of vaccine
The panelist gave the case of Israel where massive vaccination has been happening. As result, there is a massive reduction in severe hospitalization and hospital admission, a massive decline in the number of cases, and a massive decline in the number of deaths.
If the vaccine leads to a massive declination of hospitalization, it will free the healthcare resources and let them deal with other diseases. This is a big advantage.
Risks-Hesitancy on the vaccine
Some people are concerned about safety, Efficacy, side effects, etc.
What are the alternatives to Covid-a9 vaccines?
There are a few alternatives that people use like:
Developing active immunity: Waiting to be infected, then waiting for the natural immune system to develop. This is not very sure that the person will manage to fight the disease.
Passive immunity through plasma therapy. It was confirmed that there is no effective plasma therapy.
Using some drugs as treatments: some drugs have been mentioned to be curing Covid-19 like Ivermectin, prednisolone, silver, etc.
Dr Edward mentioned that they are not in the picture. Except for use for those who are in critical care.
Supplements: vitamin c, zinc, ginger, garlic, and other herbal treatments. What about steaming? There is no confirmed evidence that those things prevent or treat Covid 19. They can help in a certain way but they cannot cure or prevent Covid 19.
The only ways for prevention are hand washing, maintaining social distancing, and vaccination.
What if I do nothing?
You might be among the lucky ones, but if you are old or working in a very exposed area, doing nothing is like playing the lottery. The disease is serious and can cause long-term effects.
After the presentations, the moderator Crispin Moyo took participants to the Question/Answers (Q/A) session.
- The most common question is Ivermectin. Is Ivermectin a treatment?
Ivermectin is made to treat infection in animals.
The countries that have taken Ivermectin are the Latin American countries but some countries pulled out later on.
Vaccine turnout was low so they used ivermectin as they wait for vaccine, ivermectin was used as a trial because its side effect is almost zero, it does not kill. So they let people try.
There is no enough evidence to declare the antiviral effect of ivermectin, it does not act against viral infection like Covid 19. Some countries in Sub Sahara Africa that use ivermectin still show some number of deaths. There is no rational behind it.
- How about Breastfeeding and pregnant mother? Can they take the vaccines?
No contrary indication to that but in some countries, they put different measures because the clinical trial is not done yet.
- In Sub-Saharan Africa the infection is low, Should we allow the nature to take charge of it? Do we need a vaccine?
There is mortality but there is also morbidity. We want to protect people from getting sick but we also want to prevent long-term effect of the disease. Everyone should get protected if possible.
- Why it is so quick to come up with the vaccine for Covid 19? Why there is no vaccine of HIV?
When a person gets HIV, it has become part of the DNA. HIV changes very fast. It is hard to get a vaccine for it. They are just two different viruses.
- Why Vaccine is different in the African population?
The test has been done all over the world. It has shown to be safe.
- Can people travel in between countries?
It seems that Covid 19 vaccine will become a requirement. Travelling is a choice we all have to align with the immigration requirement.
- What is your recommendation?
Dr. Edward encouraged people to take the vaccine however the decision is left to each individual.
- Priority on the vaccine has been given to some people based on 03 main considerations:
- Age: those who are 60 and above
- Health condition: those who are obese, hypertension, diabetics,
- Those whose their jobs leave them highly exposed (health workers, public servants, etc).
- Covid 19 vaccine has effect on fertility, is it true?
This is not true. However it is good to know that having covid 19 can lower your fertility not permanently but immediately after the disease and can be life changing.
- Should I take the supplements?
You can do as part of wellness support.
- Should Africa start developing its own vaccine?
Definitely, we should not rely on others always. If governments can invest on vaccine, it is a good cause
- How about the issue of blood clotting ? (side effects of the vaccine)
Travelling on a flight can increase the risk of blood clotting. If you are travelling, it is not good to take the vaccine the same day.
- What are your Recommendations
Trust the authorities in your countries. There are people whose jobs are to ensure your safety.
- We hear vaccine is denaturing ovaries
There has not been any study showing that. Studies have shown that Covid 19 infection lower sperm counts not the vaccine.
- What about the Side effects of the vaccine
Side effects are normal to any vaccine but the benefits outweigh the risks.
- Vaccines are made to kill Africans
Some people said Bill Gate manufactured vaccines to kill Africans. If that is the case, he will not invest in vaccine, He will just stop funding HIV and malaria, etc.
Take information and take it in a bigger picture. Bill Gates is already making money anytime we update system and antiviruses on our computers. We just need to relook into those.
- Vaccine takes 10 to 15 years to manufacture, why this time it is so fast? Are we still under trial?
What delays the process is the bureaucracy that was cut off for the covid 19 vaccine. In most vaccine, the most serious side effects happen within 03 to 04 weeks.
People should not equate the time to develop other vaccine with Covid 19 vaccine.
- Some people die after getting the vaccine
Some of those people had already a deadly disease before they got the vaccine and they developed complication later on. Others got the disease after the vaccine. It is important to investigate what caused the death not the vaccine.
FINAL REMARK: ONE MINUTE REMARKS / TAKE HOME FROM THE PANELISTS
Dr Charles Ochero: all countries have prioritized the elders and the health care workers. No countries would want to kill their workers with a vaccine that will cause harm. Would you want to take the vaccine or not, it is you.
Dr Thandeka Moyo: All of us are here due to our childhood vaccines. The sooner we take the vaccine, the sooner we get protected.
Dr. Edrward Kunonga: get information from the correct sources. We need to make use of our intellectual capacities to think about the Benefits, Risks, and alternatives of the vaccine and to listen to our guts and our conscious.