Today, the 9th of March, 2021, is exactly one week since the Ghana government started vaccinating its citizens against the COVID-19 disease. As a physician that consults at the Lekma Hospital, I joined the queue on the first day of the national exercise of deploying the vaccines. I belong to the first group of citizens eligible to take the vaccine due to my health worker status. Other genres of citizens like the elderly (60+ years) and those with underlying conditions joined the queue on the first day. After a week of vaccination, about 210,000 Ghanaians have embraced the opportunity to get vaccinated.
Unfortunately, there are still those who keep asking the question- should I wait for some time to see what happens to those going for the vaccines or just go for the vaccine now?
The AstraZeneca vaccine has gone through all the three necessary Clinical trials that must be conducted before giving it to people in any country. Tens of thousands of participants took part in the phase three trials which were carried out to find out how effective the vaccines are in protecting the population against COVID-19 infection as well as COVID 19 related severe illness and death. AstraZeneca has an efficacy of about 70%.
This efficacy only speaks to the protection the vaccine gives from contracting COVID-19. That is to say if 100 people get vaccinated, 70 of them will not get COVID-19 at all. The rest of the 30 can get COVID-19. Just ending here on the efficacy information leaves out two critical benefits that the vaccine provides; two benefits that have been established in clinical trials across different countries and have actually been confirmed in countries like the UK where more than 21 million have been vaccinated.
Taking the vaccine protects you from severe and critical disease should you find yourself in the minority who can get COVID-19 despite vaccination. What it means is that you are saved from hospitalization and more importantly COVID-19 related death with the vaccine. AstraZeneca vaccines might have an average of 70% efficacy against COVID-19 but its protection against severe illness from COVID-19 is over 85%, with protection from death nearing 99%.
The Pfizer vaccine produced in the US may have an efficacy of 94% similar to the Moderna vaccine but the good news is that both of them give you virtually the same result from AstraZeneca when it comes to preventing severe illness and death.
The Johnson and Johnson Johnson vaccine that recently got Emergency Use Authorization has an average efficacy of 70% like the AstraZeneca vaccine. The phase three clinical trials done in South Africa with this Johnson and Johnson vaccine showed that rate of hospitalization fell drastically in those who got the vaccine compared to those who didn’t receive the vaccine. No deaths were recorded in those who got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
This information from the studies on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine validates one truth- WHICH IS – IT IS SMARTER TO GET THE VACCINE, IRRESPECTIVE OF WHICH BRAND, WHEN AVAILABLE THAN TO WAIT. I know that in Ghana 85 out of hundred people who get COVID-19 will have only mild to moderate disease and these statistics has undoubtedly emboldened some people to say “let me just wait and watch”, with the thinking that should they even get the virus, they will be part of the 85% who do not experience severe disease.
A relative of mine got COVID-19 and experienced severe illness that could have killed him. He got it from a family member who only experienced mild symptoms when she had it. The lesson is that should you avoid the vaccine with the thinking that you will be ok even in case of an infection, you can serve as a carrier who passes on the virus to other friends and family who might get severely ill and die.
So getting vaccinated doesn’t only protect you, it protects those you relate too by breaking the transmission chain. I am vaccinated now so should I come across a COVID positive person who brings the virus in contact with me, two things can happen; either my vaccine acquired immunity stops the virus from infecting me or gets into my system but is unable to overwhelm me and land me at the hospital. Since over 70 out of 100 who get the vaccine are protected from COVID infection, those people serve as barriers that break the transmission chain. When a virus gets to them, it ends there and doesn’t get passed on to the next.
So vaccination achieves a reduction in the transmission rates, infection rates, hospitalization rates, mortality rates and eventually will bring the pandemic to a stop. The deployment of VACCINES signals the beginning of the end of the Pandemic. What will make this end-stage shorter and less fatal is continued adherence to the mask-wearing and handwashing protocols since these protocols serve as an extranet catching the few viral strains that escape the wall of protection provided by the Vaccines.
It is the objective of Ghana’s government to complete this end stage of the pandemic by December 2021. Hopefully by this time, over 20 million Ghanaians will have been vaccinated and the transmission rate for COVID 19 will have neared zero.
I know the rollout of the vaccine will save us many more deaths in this end-stage but if we want to experience very low mortality or better still avoid any deaths at all , the mask-wearing protocols must be adhered to so that this last episode of the pandemic is made short and less deadly.
It does not take AstraZeneca or Pfizer or Moderna in particular to achieve a COVID pandemic free world. Any of the approved vaccines will protect you from the Pandemic, keep you away from the ICU , save you from death and significantly slow down infections rates till elimination of the disease is achieved nationally.
I predict that this pandemic will end with this calendar year, 2021. This prediction can only be true if you take the vaccine and wear the mask. Let’s help to make the prediction true because we can’t afford to have our cinemas closed and our hospitality sector on its knees in 2022. We can’t afford not to hug our loved ones in 2022.
I guess the answer to waiting for some time or not before getting the vaccine is obvious now. Not a smart move to wait, it can turn out to be suicidal.
By: Dr. Okoe Boye
A former Deputy Minister of Health.
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