Sunday, December 27, 2020

Is Covid-19 Vaccine Enough to End the Pandemic?

Photo: Vice -Premier of China ChunLan

Lovemore Hungwe

Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

THE United Kingdom’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Ms Melanie Robinson set Twitter ablaze last week after her announcement on the microblogging site that her country would offer the Pfizer-NTech Covid-19 vaccine to Zimbabwe. Under the COVAX plan, Britain has offered to vaccinate 20 percent of Zimbabwe’s vulnerable population against Covid-19. Inevitably, Ambassador Robinson’s announcement drew mixed feelings, as some observers supported the move, while others were skeptical.

In view of the imminent roll out of the vaccine to Zimbabwe in 2021, it is important to scrutinise the vaccine, looking at the possible pros and cons that it will bring.

So far, it is globally accepted that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is over 90% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 illness in people without evidence of previous infection. Evidence from clinical trials also proves that the vaccine is effective.

However, it is also necessary for one to take a closer look at the events in other countries where the vaccine has been introduced. Ambassador Robinson’s home country the U.K is a good example because it has already secured large numbers of doses of vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, with the vaccination process currently ongoing. Although thousands of people in the UK have been injected with the vaccine, new strains of Covid-19 are becoming common. Despite rolling out the first vaccines on December 8, the UK is still recording more positive cases and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration has even announced a stricter lockdown that it has dubbed tier 4. This might be a signal that the vaccine is not elixir and is not the magic bullet in ending the pandemic.

Another interesting factor that cannot be ignored is that the pandemic is continuing to spread in the United States, which has also rolled out the vaccine. Amid an alarming surge of Covid-19 cases, health experts say it has become difficult to instill faith in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines in the US. This is because the pandemic has killed more than 300,000 Americans already, shut down parts of the economy and thrown millions out of work.

Millions of Americans are reluctant to take the vaccine, with one research indicating that up to 21 percent of the population distrusts the vaccine, particularly because they believe that the vaccine was rushed.

Although the US is the most developed country today, its government lacks the ability to persuade its people to follow simple restriction rules such as social distancing due to the extreme belief of ‘right to freedom’.  Some US citizens are still hosting house parties, while others even believe that the vaccine is a hoax. Other American citizens even simply refuse to admit the existence of Covid-19 and do not adhere to simple rules such as wearing masks. Some US citizens have said that masks contain 5g chips which will help the government to spy on them. On Thanksgiving-Day thousands of demonstrators burnt thousands of masks at the Washington Square. Provided with this evidence, one can conclude that, it is not the lack of medical technology or doses of vaccine that lead the US to the growing death cases, but the lack of adherence to social restrictions. This gives credence to the point that the vaccine alone will not end the virus as there are other existential factors that cannot be ignored.

In the Zimbabwean context, it means that, if other factors are not considered, the vaccine alone will not end the pandemic. Even if the Zimbabwean Government is ready to consensually vaccinate its people, it should not merely depend and wait on the vaccine offered by the UK. While the offer by the UK to Zimbabwe was well-meaning, one cannot afford to ignore some factors that need scrutiny. There are some questions that still need answers: when the vaccine will be available; whether it will be donated or sold; how it will be transported to Zimbabwe? We hope that in due course, all these questions will be answered.

While waiting for the U.K vaccine, Zimbabwe should be open to other options and look into other countries that are developing or have already developed vaccines such as Germany and China.

Looking at China for instance, it is the most experienced and successful nation in fighting against the Covid-19 pandemic. On December 2, 2020 the Vice premier of China Sun ChunLan announced that China has made significant progress in the research and development of Covid-19 vaccines, with five vaccines already entering the phrase-III clinical trials. All these vaccines by China have been reported to be around 95% in terms of their effectiveness.

By December 24, 2020, 180 thousand people in the Guangdong province of China were vaccinated and no serious side effects were reported making the vaccines more reliable and trustworthy. With this in mind, it is advisable for Zimbabwe not to put all its eggs in one basket but to cast its net wide.

In a nutshell, one can conclude that both the social restriction rules and Covid-19 vaccines are necessary in the fight against the pandemic. Therefore it remains doubtful that the pandemic can be eradicated by the Pfizer-NTech vaccine alone.

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