The vaccine solution | Daily News

The vaccine solution

Most countries are now seeing vaccination as the only way out of the COVID pandemic. All other measures such as lockdowns are complementary and in fact, many countries including Sri Lanka are using the lockdowns to accelerate vaccination. The Quarantine Curfew actually makes it possible to track down those holding out on vaccination at their homes and bring them in for vaccination or provide a mobile vaccination service. The Army has now extended the latter service to most provinces.

For several days now, Sri Lanka has been leading the world in terms of the number of persons vaccinated in a single day. This is a singular achievement, given the limited financial and manpower resources at our disposal. The credit should go to the Government and health authorities which prioritized vaccine purchases and imports.

It was reported yesterday that the majority of those over 60 have now had the jab. This is a very significant development, as most COVID deaths reported during the last few weeks were of unvaccinated individuals over 60. However, if there still are persons above 60 who have not got the vaccine, plenty of vaccination centres are open across the country where they can just walk in. Those with mobility issues can opt for the Army’s mobile vaccination service by calling 1906.

Sri Lanka’s vaccination record is impressive, having begun only at the tail end of January this year. Moreover, certain developing countries, especially those in Africa, are yet to inoculate even a single person. On the other hand, Sri Lanka has now received over 27 million doses of various vaccines including Sinopharm, Pfizer, Moderna, Sputnik V and AstraZeneca/Covishield. This total includes direct purchases and donations from individual countries and COVAX. More vaccines are on the way, the ultimate aim being vaccinating everyone above 12. Clinical trials are still underway on vaccines for children below 12, so that can wait.

According to the latest statistics, Sri Lanka has given the first dose to 12.7 million people while both doses have been given to 9.1 million. This is coverage of over 80 per cent of the eligible group over 30. Even among the 20-30 age group, 37 per cent had received the first dose of the vaccine. These are good numbers and the health authorities should be able to end the vaccination of the 20-30 group probably by the end of October. Then it can focus on the 12-19 group, which is very important for re-opening schools and universities. Teachers and non-academic staffers have already been vaccinated with an eye on re-opening the schools as soon as possible.

Both the health authorities and the public must make the best use of the lockdown for the vaccination drive. The curfew is no bar to travelling to one’s nearest vaccination centre. A reduction of the number of cases and deaths has also been reported, most probably as a result of the lockdown. The authorities should therefore assess the merits and demerits of extending the lockdown beyond September 13, which is the recommendation of medical specialists and medical associations.

Vaccination does not mean that we can all go back to our previous (pre-COVID) lifestyles. There are many ‘unknowns’ with regard to vaccination. We do not know how long the vaccine-induced immunity lasts. Both Pfizer and Moderna are now recommending a third dose to boost immunity and some countries are actually giving a third (booster) shot. Even Johnson and Johnson, the healthcare giant producing the only one-shot vaccine now available in the market, says that a second shot will be needed to confer additional immunity.

While we do know that vaccines reduce the chance of infection and serious disease, we do not know whether vaccinated individuals can still transmit the virus to others. Moreover, some new Coronavirus strains such as Mu, discovered from Colombia last week, may be able to breach the vaccine wall. In this case, new vaccines will have to be developed to afford better protection.

It is thus vital for all to follow the health guidelines to the letter, including keeping the distance from the next person, washing and/or sanitizing hands, wearing face masks correctly and avoiding unnecessary travel and crowded spaces. The virus will be with us for quite a few years according to scientists and we will have to adhere to these “New Normal” practices. By now, these should have become second nature for most people.

Our health authorities should closely follow the latest global developments on vaccines and COVID treatments such as monoclonal antibodies. They should also be involved in research efforts on Coronavirus strains and other viruses that could potentially cause disease. Animals are believed to be harbouring nearly one million viruses, some of which can potentially jump to humans (Zoonotic transmission). This is how the Coronavirus pandemic is believed to have originated, though there is another theory that it could be a lab leak. In any case, we have to be ready for the next big one – yes, a future pandemic could be even more devastating. In this context, there has never been a better time for global cooperation on pandemic mitigation.

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