Talk about vaccines and variants

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By Elizabeth Sitotombe

THE impact of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic can be felt globally, but more so in Africa. 

The COVID-19 situation in Africa has become perilous as numbers keep escalating to dangerous proportions.

It has become a battle of vaccines against variants as the world fights COVID-19.

Viruses evolve all the time and they change slightly. 

This is called a mutation, hence a virus with one-or-more mutations is called a variant. 

When a high number of people are infected with a virus, the chances of the virus mutating also increases. 

Some variants may cause severe disease, others, less severe disease, while those that are potentially dangerous become ‘variants of concern’. 

There have been various virus variants, like the Kent or Alpha variant that originated from Britain, the Beta variant from South Africa, Gamma variant from Brazil and most recently, the Delta variant from India which is the variant of concern that has spread all over the world. 

It threatens to take the world several steps backward in the fight against COVID-19. 

Vaccines appear to be heavily weakened by it. 

It spreads at an alarming rate and may have a higher mortality rate as well. 

The burning question is: Are the vaccines effective against the new variants?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), vaccines that are currently available were made to fight the previous existing variants, however they should not make vaccines completely ineffective against new variants. 

One thing remains sure and that is, whatever the answer maybe, the vaccination drive should not be stopped. 

Zimbabwe has seen the highest number of COVID-19 cases ever to be reported in the country during the third wave. 

There have been reports that some of the people who have died had been fully inoculated, and because of that, many people have started to question whether they should get vaccinated or not.

According to a health practitioner who refused to be named, it should be noted first and foremost that just because numbers are going up, it does not mean vaccines are not working, because the majority of the people in Zimbabwe are yet to be vaccinated.

All the vaccines available so far are not 100 percent effective, therefore some people will be vulnerable to the virus even after receiving both jabs.

“The risk of dying from COVID-19 increases with age,” he said. “If a vaccine reduces an 80-year-old’s risk of death from COVID-19 by 95 percent, for instance, that 80-year-old ‘s risk of death might still be greater than the risk faced by an unvaccinated 20-year-old. 

“Some chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and lung disease are also associated with a higher risk of severe illness and death. 

“In England there were 50 cases of deaths in fully vaccinated people, and data according to the Wall Street Journal shows that they were all in people aged 50 and above. 

“There have been no deaths in double-vaccinated people under 50 years.”

Currently, the most important priority for Zimbabwe is to further scale up vaccination coverage in the country.

The more people get vaccinated, virus circulation is expected to decrease, which will then lead to fewer mutations. 

People must not reject vaccinations because there are new strains. 

We must proceed with vaccination.

The sharp rise of new infections being driven by the Delta variant has become proof and testament that vaccines are important in the fight against COVID-19. 

This time around, the countries with low vaccine coverage are the ones reeling from the effects of the pandemic.

Zimbabwe relies heavily on the Chinese vaccines, Sinovac and Sinopharm and both were approved by the WHO for emergency use.

In an interview with TRT World, Dr Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong said:

“Chinese vaccines are good and have saved lives in countries where most people have no access to any other vaccine, even if less successful at infection prevention, there is enough evidence to prove it has helped prevent severe cases and deaths.”

People who have contracted the virus should still get vaccinated. Pregnant women can still get vaccinated as the benefits of vaccination to pregnant women outweigh that risk. 

However, it is more advisable that they seek counsel from their doctors before doing so.

The demand for vaccines in Zimbabwe has increased significantly and Government has intensified the vaccination programme. 

In fact, the country might achieve herd immunity by year end.

In the meantime, all Zimbabweans must try by all means to stop the spread of the virus by following health protocols, hand-washing, physical distancing and ensuring there is adequate ventilation in closed spaces. 

Remember to mask-up Zimbabwe. 

Together we can combat COVID-19.

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