I’ve had my Covishield vax

We will protect ourselves and our families and fellow citizens better if we act rationally and responsibly instead of relying on rumours and misinformation, and be ready to take the vaccine…

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

In India to date more than 10 million people have already received their shot. Photo – India Today

On February 16, a team from the Ministry of Health & Quality of Life (MOH) came over to the Nouvelle Clinique Ferriere for administering anti-Covid vaccine, starting early in the morning. The consultation wing was accordingly rearranged to allow the exercise to proceed, and I with several other colleagues found ourselves on the other side of the fence as it were: sitting in the doctor’s waiting room until one’s turn came for consultation and ‘treatment.’ It was a nice relaxing experience, as I sat next to a gynaecologist colleague and we got a chance – that is hard to come by otherwise – to chit-chat and catch up on a number of things, including exchanging views about the various vaccines and related topics.

The exercise proceeded quite smoothly. To start with a young lady doctor briefed us about the vaccine, the categories of people in whom it is not advised (e.g. those with tendency to generalised allergy) and possible side-effects that we might experience, then we were issued with our Vaccination Cards before we were given the shot in the arm.

A sharp prick, only a little sting and that was it. When was the last time I had an injection? – I tried to recall: don’t know! We had to wait for half an hour post the injection before we were allowed to go. We all behaved like… good patients! We digested the information given on the Vaccination Card, but subsequently no one had to call the hotline.

About 70 people in all had their shots, including 40 staff of the clinic. Most of us have had only mild reactions, a little feverishness, mild body aches, light-headedness, a little tummy discomfort, short-lived nausea. The fever and body aches settled promptly with paracetamol. I myself had to take only one tablet late in the evening, and I was quite fine the next afternoon to get on with my consultations.

Only two members of the staff had a more pronounced fever for which they had to be admitted, but they were fine within 48 hours, and shortly afterwards resumed their duties.

Teamvax of the MOH has been going around the country carrying out the vaccination programme, which according to MOH communiqué has now been extended to several frontliner categories other than the health and medical ones. The uptake is a bit slow, as so far only a few thousands have been vaccinated.

Mauritius is not the only country where misinformation, and disinformation have led to vaccine hesitancy. This is the case in many advanced countries such as Germany, where boxes of vaccines lay unused, and in the USA initially in Texas unused stocks had to be thrown away.

People forget that such vaccine hesitancy, misinformation, and disinformation could compromise the global Covid-19 response.

This is all the more a pity since millions of people have now received the same Covishield vaccine donated by the Government of India – similar donations have been made to many other countries –, and which is produced by the Serum Institute of India in Pune, the world’s largest manufacturer and supplier of vaccines. In India itself to date more than 10 million people have already received their shot.

In the days that followed the launching of the rollout, there was a first report about side effects that concerned about 500 people, and only one had to be admitted for about 24 hours of observation. All others had mild symptoms from which they recovered fully, with only simple medication like paracetamol in most cases. There have been no further reports of untoward incidents as the rollout has continued – although there also there is hesitancy –, and with the surveillance system that has been set in place any mishap would definitely have been signalled. Besides, the media freedom that obtains in India would make it impossible to do any cover-up.

The other vaccines that have been produced, such as the ones by Pfizer, Moderna, Sinopharm, Sputnik, have been rolled out in different countries by the millions as well. The American Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a few days ago given authorization for the emergency use of the vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson, which has the advantage of needing only one shot. And all of them have comparable degrees of efficacy.

Another development that is taking place is that of a nasal vaccine, which has entered the trial phase, which also taking place in India. It is considered that if this is successful, it could be a game changer because it will simply simplify considerably the logistics aspect, since it would be simpler to administer – by the patient himself. And probably more effective, though this is yet to be established.

A study done in Israel, which has had the largest population coverage of vaccination, has already shown its benefit in terms of incidence of new cases and transmission of Covid-19, and similar results will likely be reported in future from other studies that are ongoing.

As far as we are concerned here, it is in the people’s interest that they do not listen to rumours or go by the misinformation and disinformation to be found on social media, and to get themselves vaccinated when Teamvax of MOH is present in their locality offering the shots.

The one question that remains is: when is the next (booster) dose? Initially scheduled to be given in one month, there may be a change, pushing it to three months. This is supported by the results of clinical trials that have been reported in an article in the British Medical Journal The Lancet of February 16, 2021 – ‘Single-dose administration and the influence of the timing of the booster dose on immunogenicity and efficacy of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AZD1222) vaccine: a pooled analysis of four randomised trials’.

Editor’s Pick introduces the article: ‘a 3-month interval between doses of the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine results in higher vaccine efficacy than a 6-week interval, with the first dose offering 76% protection in the 3 months between doses. These results, from post-hoc exploratory analyses from a phase 3 randomised controlled trial published in The Lancet, suggest that the interval between doses can be safely extended to 3 months given the protection a single dose offers, which may allow countries to vaccinate a larger proportion of the population more rapidly. The authors note that this regimen may be beneficial while vaccine supplies are initially limited.’

In the same issue is another article titled: ‘Future scenarios for the Covid-19 pandemic’. Noting that the ‘Covid-19 pandemic has been met by unequal responses in different countries and led to unequal impacts, with populations in Europe, the USA, and Latin America disproportionately impacted,’ the author points out that ‘we are simply moving to a new phase of the pandemic’ what with all the variants that are being detected and deemed to be responsible for the second waves that are taking place across many countries.

He makes a case for the global coverage that is required – but also the need for it to still be accompanied by the sanitary measures prescribed, as vaccination alone will not suffice to achieve control:

‘What emerges next will partly depend on the ongoing evolution of SARS-CoV-2, on the behaviour of citizens, on governments’ decisions about how to respond to the pandemic, on progress in vaccine development and treatments and also in a broader range of disciplines in the sciences and humanities that focus both on bringing this pandemic to an end and learning how to reduce the impacts of future zoonoses, and on the extent to which the international community can stand together in its efforts to control Covid-19. Vaccines alone, unless they achieve high population coverage, offer long-lasting protection, and are effective in preventing both SARS-CoV-2 transmission and Covid-19, will not end the pandemic or allow the world to return to “business as usual”. Until high levels of global vaccine-mediated protection are achieved across the world, it could be catastrophic if measures such as mask wearing, physical distancing, and hand hygiene are relaxed prematurely.’ (italics added)

We will protect ourselves and our families and fellow citizens better if we act rationally and responsibly instead of relying on rumours and misinformation, and be ready to take the vaccine as soon as it is made available around the country.

* Published in print edition on 26 February 2021

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