Immunisation is a priority in the control of Vaccine- preventable diseases.
For my fourteen years of formal education, I attended one school and left it to join the only university in my country at that time. By sheer coincidence, Gayaza High School, the oldest girls boarding school in Uganda, founded by the Church Missionary Society of Britain in 1905, happened to be located within the “defined area” of the Makerere University , Kasangati Public health centre. This centre served as a clinical base where medicals students and post graduates were educated and trained in preventive medicine. At the same time it offered improved quality care to the community. It offered free prompt treatment of diseases, illnesses and injury, rehabilitation, prevention of diseases, improved community’s health and involved the community in the management of its health.
At the beginning of each term and at the end, all students were weighed, their heights recorded, had medical examinations, were dewormed and immunized against the immunisable diseases of that time like tuberculosis, tetanus, polio, measles, small pox, following the international schedules. Low weight students were put on a special diet and followed up.
I for one loathed the injection- prick pain but I had no way out. I was always among the last ones to get it.
When later in the fourth year in medical school, I spent three months training at this centre, I greatly appreciated its role in keeping us healthy during our childhood and I accepted whole heartedly that Immunisation was part of Primary prevention of disease in healthy people.
Fast Forward to 2020: the new coronavirus, COVID-19, continues to dominate all areas of our lives and stands as the greatest threat to global public health of the century. We are now into the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as it spreads into our communities
From the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Resource Centre, as of the 9th December 2020,Uganda had reported a total of 25,059 and 219 deaths. Due to our limited resources, Mass testing is not yet available. USA had recorded the highest total : 15,392,196 and 289,450 confirmed deaths!
Like the second wave of the Spanish flue pandemic of 1918-1919 which killed 50 million people in total worldwide, the second wave of COVID-19 disease pandemic is killing more people than the first one.
We have the advantage of advanced science knowledge and technology to add another vital tool to the Public health measures of:
1. Washing your hands with soap and water regularly and properly.
2. Wearing a face mask properly in all public places or around people who do not live in your household.
3. Physical distancing – at least two metres between yourself and other people.
4. Being well informed about the disease.
In our fierce fight against this life threatening enemy which has no specific cure, some remarkable achievements have been made. By the 9th November 2020, collaborative studies and research by scientists and Pharmaceutical companies had born fruits
Currently, about 200 potential vaccines are in various stages of development. Public health specialist have assured us that it requires at least 60% of the world’s population of 7.8 billion people to have to have been vaccinated with a safe and effective vaccine to stem the tide of the pandemic.
The more safe and effective vaccines developed and approved, the easier the production and distribution globally.
Talking to the people around me, their major concern is the safety of the vaccines since they have been developed rather fast- March 2020 to November 2020. Traditionally development of such a vaccine would tale 5-10 years.
They also want to know how long the protection of the 2-dose vaccine lasts and whether the vaccine directly affects the transmission of the virus from one individual to another. For the last two question to be answered it requires the follow up of those who received it, for a long period.
As for the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, all scientists and researchers wherever they are have a role to play in reassuring the public so that they can accept the vaccine when it becomes available to them.
The day I graduated, all medical graduands had to swear to the Hippocratic oath-one of the oldest binding document traced back to Hippocrates, the so-called father of Medicine who lived in the 5th century BC. We swore to uphold the principles enshrined it. They included saving of lives and to share the scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk and the knowledge that I would acquire acquire in the practice of Medicine.
I have always honoured these principles but as of now, I feel I have to do it with a lot of vigour and responsibility. I have read a lot about the COVID-19 respiratory disease and continue to do so to get a better understanding of the disease and help people to gain a solid understanding of the underlying science and how the disease affects our daily lives.
In this Digital era of free available information that can be shared instantly, one has to be helped on how to filter it and get the right message – to make the right informed medical decisions and apply them to improve the quality of one’s life. Our beliefs and values play an important role in the decisions we make every day and we tend to pick what affirms our beliefs.
But having the right science knowledge about current health matters like COVID-19 respiratory disease, helps us to recognise our role in the prevention and control of the pandemic and to engage deeply in the ongoing conversations in our communities and nationally.
As of now, the COVID-19 pandemic is the most important science –based issue of our day and as a health worker I have to acquaint myself with the available knowledge about the pandemic and help the ordinary people understand it. We all know that when we get the necessary knowledge we understand the problem or issue at hand and willingly become part of the solution other than create more uncertainty.
Simplified scientific knowledge given to the public enables them to have a legitimate voice in the conversation about the matter. In the midst of fake news and the spread of misinformation, we have to remember that science is reproducible , evidence-based information that is factual not opinion intended to help the public know and understand scientific concepts and processes.
Drugs and vaccines have benefits and risks to the user but doctors generally use them when the benefits outweigh the risks .
I have summarized a few facts for you to help you understand why you and I need the COVID-19 vaccine.
1. The COVID-19 vaccine has been developed rather fast: March 2020 to November 2020.
Yes, this is true and is record time in the history of the development of vaccines. It has been made possible by the available advanced science and technology.
In 2003, there was an epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-SARS. It was caused by a coronavirus SARS-CoV but researchers , doctors, funders and pharmaceutical companies got to work to develop a vaccine against this virus.
The current COVID-19 virus is a new strain of the family of the Coronaviruses to which SARS belongs. Since they are related, the previous work done in the development of the 2003 SARS-CoV vaccine facilitated the work on COVID-19 coronavirus potential vaccine. They did not have to start from scratch once they had identified COVID-19 as a new strain of an already existing family of viruses.
2 .The results of the studies have had to be scrutinised by the experts in Vaccine development to ensure that the highest standards of research were followed. They assessed the quality, validity and originality of the research work carried out. They have to determine the contribution of the research studies to the advancement in the field of vaccine development. Errors and mistakes must have been pointed out to the researchers for redress.
3. Developing a safe, effective vaccine against COVID-19 coronavirus has been the most pressing challenge of our time but the researchers , doctors and pharmaceutical companies have reassured us that they have not cut corners or made short cuts.
4. None of these new vaccines use real viral material therefore they are not likely to cause any significant side effects. All those involved are aware of what any compromise on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine can cause to the population and the backlash on their companies or universities. Trust takes years to develop but can be lost in the blink of an eye.
5. As the vaccines are being launched and rolled out, all those receiving them are being followed up for any development of side effects like allergic reactions. Mass testing continues as well as the monitoring of the use of vaccines for at least a year.
6. At the onset , none of us had any immunity to this new virus- enabling it to spread rapidly in all our communities. For the pandemic to be controlled, 70 to 90 % of any given population in any country has to develop Herd Immunity– through having suffered from the infectious disease or having developed the immunity by being vaccinated against COVID-19 disease. To allow the biggest number of the population to suffer from the disease will overwhelm the health workers and the health care systems and cause many deaths especially in the high-risk part of the population.
The best way for the biggest part of the population to acquire immunity to the infection is to simultaneously reduce the spread of the infection in the population by using the Public health measures drawn up by the Ministry of health while rolling out wide vaccination of the frontline health workers and the population at the highest risk of developing the severe form of the infection. This was the same approach used to control Vaccine- preventable Childhood diseases like Tuberculosis, tetanus , the highly contagious measles, rubella, chickenpox and polio in our populations. The quick development of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine and its wide use globally, will make this possible.
7. We in the developing world, have a big concern about the distribution and actual access to this new vaccine. Traditionally, those who could pay got the vaccines first. However, it is comforting to know that organizations like COVAX are covering our backs. COVAX aims at ensuring fair equitable access to an effective vaccine for all countries- a global collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatment and vaccines. World health Organisation is part of this group.
8. Pandemics- in the past a pandemic like the Spanish flue were a once- in- a century event but in this 21st century, pandemics are becoming more frequent and more challenging to manage.
Viruses like HIV, Ebola, SARS-CoV and COVID-19 live in wild animals like monkeys and bats as their natural hosts but as huge forests are being cleared for timber, farming and new settlements, the animals’ natural habitat is being reduced. Wild animals have been forced to move and live close to human beings. This makes it easy for the viruses to move from these animals and jump into human beings thus causing diseases like Ebola, SARS and Covid-19.
EXCITING NEW DEVELOPMENTS.
On the 5th December 2020, Russia launched its COVID-19 vaccine programme in Moscow, the epicenter of the pandemic in Russia. Over 5000 people in the high risk groups were vaccinated in 70 clinics within Moscow. The Russian coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V was registered in August, is claimed to be 95% effective.
Russia had reported 2,541,199 confirmed cases and 44,718 deaths by 9th December 2020.
The video clip of 90 years-old Margaret Keenan receiving the first injection of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine on the 8th December 6:31 am at Coventery as the National Health System launched its mass vaccination programme, the largest in the NHS’ 73 –year history gave us renewed hope. The programme is being rolled out at 70 hospitals around UK.
UK has so far reported 1,771,552 confirmed cases and 62,663 deaths.
Uganda has applied to have the approved COVID-19 vaccine available in the country by January 2021 mainly for the Frontline health workers and highest –at –risk part of the population
I will be among the first ones in the queue and will mobilize many to join as a way of thanking all those researchers, doctors, funders and pharmaceutical companies that have worked together to get us this far in such a short time. Gradually, we can end the pandemic and then rebuild our lives and economies.
As a health worker in a developing country who has been involved in the struggles to control Tuberculosis, Neonatal Tetanus, Measles and polio, I consider this a remarkable achievement.
However, I am still waiting for a safe and effective vaccine for Malaria which remains the number one killer disease in children under five in my country.
Has this post helped you to understand why we need the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Will you willingly take it if you happen to be among the high-risk group of the population?