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VACCINATION DOESN’T MEAN RELAXATION

By Dr Mbuyi Masuwa

On April 14, 2021 Health Minister Dr Jonas Chanda launched the country’s vaccination programme against Covid-19.  Thousands have so far received their first jabs of the double dose AstraZeneca vaccine.

Although there is still much mistrust from certain quarters, with some questioning the safety and efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine, vaccination itself is a step in the right direction. It is a step closer to putting an end to this pandemic.

Globally, about a billion people have been vaccinated. We need the effective and safe vaccines to get us to herd immunity if the exercise is really going to be beneficial.

Herd immunity for the world means close to five billion people have to be vaccinated. We can all help get there.

I have recently heard some people saying that since we now have the vaccines there is no point of masking up and no need for all the physical distancing restrictions etc, that life should get back to normal.

Just how safe is this kind of mindset?  This sounds like one leaving their car outside their gate at night with doors open just because they have recently installed a very advanced alarm system.

To well elaborate this, will look at two countries that have both done so well with vaccination but one has still got spikes in cases whilst the other one seems to have the cases under control.

The two countries are Chile and Israel. While Israel seems to have the pandemic under control, Chile is having a surge with numbers even higher than before the vaccination.

What is the difference and can we learn something from the two nations?

Although the actual difference can be affected by a lot of factors including the type of vaccines used, demographics etc, however the general picture can be a learning point. The main difference can be the same everywhere else.

ISRAEL: CASES UNDER CONTROL

Israel, with a population of about only nine million people, almost half the population of Zambia, has been among the countries with the fastest vaccination programes. It has so far vaccinated five million people which is more than 50 percent of the population.

Its vaccine of choice has been the Pfizer/BioNTech (UK/Germany)  which has been shown to have good clinical trials.  It is also a two-dose vaccine and it is believed most have received their double doses so far.

The country has recorded dramatic falls in rates of infection, hospital admissions and deaths. Daily life has returned almost completely to a pre-pandemic situation, with shops, hotels, concerts and cinemas open again. Nonetheless, restrictions are still in place, such as the need for face masks outside the home and limits on gatherings indoors.

An analysis by Eran Segal, a computational biologist at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, reported that since a January peak in infections, the country had seen daily drops of 96 percent in cases, 90 percent in critically ill patients and 85 percent in deaths.

According to Health ministry statistics, daily infections have plummeted to the low hundreds – a massive decline since January, when there were 10, 000 confirmed infections a day.

CHILE, A SURGE AFTER VACCINATION

Chile’s vaccination roll-out strategy has also proven to be one of the best in the world having supplied vaccines to more than 14 million people since December. 24, 2020.

The country is among the global leaders in vaccination only outpaced by Israel and the United Arab Emirates.  Chileans have a good attitude and response towards vaccination.

According to Claudia Cortes, vice president of the Chilean Society of Infectious Diseases, one of the secrets to the country’s vaccination success is its past experience with efficient vaccination programmes.

“Our public health system was born as a result of the vaccination plans and in general the acceptance of vaccines in the country is very high,” she says.

The country has ordered about 90 million doses from Sinovac (CHINA), Pfizer (UK/GERMANY) and AstraZeneca (UK/SWEEDEN), more than enough to immunise its 19 million citizens.

However, Chile had an alarming surge in the recent weeks with more than 8, 000 daily infections and intensive care bed occupancy at 95 percent, making the country one of the highest per capita Covid-19 infection rates in the world.  Currently there are over 1.1 million infections with over 26, 000 deaths.

Surprisingly, cases are on the rise despite the country having one of the most successful inoculation campaigns.

What went wrong?

The speedy vaccination programme appears to have instilled a false sense of security that led the country to ease restrictions too soon without people appreciating the ongoing risks.

The country reopened its borders in January and introduced permits for Chileans to go on summer holiday. Without strict controls on people entering the country, and the lack of an efficient contact-tracking system, travellers may have brought infections back into the country that were not picked up.

It is also very probable that the virus had more chances to spread when the schools, restaurants, shopping malls, casinos, gyms and churches reopened.

“There was a certain triumphalism when vaccination started and although vaccination is going very well in Chile, one cannot conclude that a vaccine will be the end of our problems,” said Cortes.

“We know that vaccination is only effective when 80 percent of the population is vaccinated and that is a long way off.”

She said the government eased restrictions “excessively” after imposing very strict quarantines. In January, the country created a permit system for Chileans to go on their summer vacation that goes from December to March.

“After many months of restrictions, curfews and quarantines, the government relaxed the measures excessively, giving vacation permits to more than five million people, who moved around the national territory causing the virus to spread.”

The Health minister admitted in March that the risks of taking the summer vacation were not effectively communicated to the people.

Cortes warns that the country is now facing new variants of the virus, which are more infectious and more deadly.

“We don’t know how widespread the new variants are but we believe they are quite widespread because the virus behaviour has been much more aggressive. We are starting to see serious cases among younger people who are being hospitalised,” she added.

Considering this sad development Chile is back to lockdown restrictions.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE

We can choose to continue adhering to public health measures as a supplement to vaccination or we can choose to become relaxed, stop masking up, start having careless and huge gatherings. 

As political campaigns are soon to begin, I hope and pray all our political leaders ensure their supporters adhere to the Covid-19 guidelines or else we risk opening the floodgates of the pandemic which we can’t close. The effects of such, only time will tell.

UNTIL THEN, ALUTA CONTINUA, THE STRUGGLE CPONTINUES, PLEASE

MASK UP;

OBSERVE HAND HYGIENE;

OBSERVE REASONABLE PHYSICAL DISTANCE;

AND BECAUSE YOU CARE, PLEASE  SHARE.

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