Vaccines Are Helping The World To Combat Covid-19 But This Pandemic Battle Needs Better Strategy

Bhaswati Guha Majumder

Aug 24, 2021, 05:14 PM | Updated 06:36 PM IST

Representative image
Representative image
  • Despite mass Covid-19 vaccination in some countries like Israel, Turkey, etc., they are still witnessing the surge in coronavirus cases. Why?
  • Vaccination is a vital tool to ensure the safety of people around the world. Considering the vaccine hesitancy around the world, healthcare experts have been claiming that getting the Covid-19 jab is the most important step to make the world virus-free. But to eradicate the novel Coronavirus and live a fearless life, people may need to do more than just getting the shots on their arms—at least, that is what the data indicates.

    As per the World Health Organization (WHO), there are at least 13 different Covid-19 vaccines are currently being used around the world, including mRNA (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna), vector vaccines (Oxford-AstraZeneca and Sputnik V) and inactivated Vero cell vaccine (Sinovac, Sinopharm and Covaxin).

    According to the Reuters database, at least 200 countries have already started vaccination against the Covid-19 using available vaccines.

    Among all these vaccines, the mRNA vaccine from American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech earned the popularity award as countries like Canada, Singapore, Israel, Australia and some European nations are using this jab along with the United States. On 23 August, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US has given full approval to this mRNA vaccine.

    However, countries like Chile (75 per cent received at least one shot), Spain (75 per cent), the United Kingdom (71 per cent), Bahrain (69 per cent), Malaysia (57 per cent), Sri Lanka (55 per cent), Turkey (55 per cent), Japan (52 per cent) and South Korea (50 per cent) are using Oxford-AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, Sinopharm, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Sinovac, as well as Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. But most of these countries are also witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases.

    For example, despite mass vaccination Israel (65 per cent received at least one dose as per the Reuters database) has been facing a spike in infection numbers. It is the Delta variant that caught Israelis by surprise. Israel was one of the first countries to vaccinate the majority of its citizens, and by March, the majority of Israelis had already forgotten about Covid-19.

    Now, the infection rate has already risen, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has stated that he will take all necessary steps to reduce the rate and avoid further lockdown.

    According to health experts, there are two key reasons why Israel was hit so hard by the Delta variant. Israelis, for example, were 'ok' to ignore the mask regulations, which were reinstated at the end of June. Police are already issuing fines to anyone who does not conceal their face. Another explanation for the high infection rate is that most Israelis received the Pfizer-BioNTech shots, which is less effective than the Moderna vaccine against the virus variant, as per the research.

    Professor Cyril Cohen, vice dean of life sciences at Bar Ilan University and a member of the health ministry's coronavirus vaccine advisory board, said: "It's true that Moderna has better-protected people from infection, but the two vaccines are almost equivalent in effectiveness against severe disease. This is important so that our hospitals won't be overwhelmed."

    However, while understanding the threat, for residents aged 60 and up, the country began administering a booster immunisation and later, the health ministry approved booster shots for everyone aged 40 and above.

    As the hospitals began to be flooded by patients in Israel, Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, Chair, Israeli Public Health Physicians Association, said recently: "I don't think this was a surprise in general. We see a surge in the ultra-orthodoxy community like in previous waves."

    "We have people returning from abroad and then the general population had its share and then it [infection]was moved to other more densely populated housing. I think there was also false assurance by the ultra-orthodox that they got into herd immunity and this is not true. On the other hand, we see a very good engagement with ultra-orthodox in terms of rising rates of vaccination and testing", he continued.

    "I think that like many other things, Covid presented us a mirror about our healthcare system and how it is overwhelmed," said the expert.

    As Israel tightens its Covid-19 restrictions, now to visit any public place, children aged between 3 and 12 need to get a coronavirus test. In this case, Prof. Davidovitch said: "It is a part of a larger program. We want to have these serological testing in order to better understand the situation."

    Another country is Turkey, whose coronavirus cases jumped to 22,291 on 28 July. In April, the number of daily infections reached a high of 63,000. They were dragged down by a strict lockdown that ended in mid-May, dropping to 4,418 on 4 July before rising again.

    As reported, the spike came after the Eid al Adha holiday, which saw many Turks rush to overcrowded beach resorts last week. However, according to Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, 87 per cent of current cases are among persons who have not been completely vaccinated. In a televised address, Koca added that the number of hospitalisations has risen to 95 per cent, urging people to get their immunisations.

    But once again, in early August the number of new coronavirus cases jumped to about 25,000 in Turkey. It was reported that the virus started to spread in the country after authorities relaxed pandemic restrictions.

    Turkey has given out over 87 million Covid-19 vaccines, mostly Sinovac's Coronavac and Pfizer-BioNTech's mRNA jab. However, recently President Tayyip Erdogan said that as schools reopen next month and for internal travel, Turkey will begin requiring negative test results and certificates of vaccination for several sectors.

    On 20 August, Koca confirmed that the Delta Variant now accounts for over 90 per cent of infections in the country. According to the minister, the Delta plus variant was also on the rise, though not at a particularly high pace and explained that this shift in variants indicated an increase in contagion intensity.

    Recently two south-east Asian countries, Malaysia and the Philippines, reported a record number of coronavirus cases per day as a deadly wave of the highly contagious Delta variant swept through the region.

    In July, Malaysia said that it would discontinue the use of China's Sinovac vaccine. This announcement came just days after Thailand and Indonesia announced that many of their citizens would receive a non-Sinovac booster shot if they had received the Chinese vaccine.

    Thailand and Indonesia announced their policies on a booster shot in response to growing concerns about the efficacy of the Chinese-made vaccine, as well as after some people in those countries died from the coronavirus despite receiving two shots of Sinovac.

    Many people now doubt the effectiveness of the vaccines (whether it is the most favourite mRNA jabs or Chinese vaccines), seeing such a spike in Covid-19 cases in some countries with good vaccination rates. But what experts have been saying, again and again, is that "breakthrough infections" are expected as none of the vaccines in the world are 100 per cent effective, and people need to follow safety measures even after taking the shots.

    Meanwhile, they pointed out the effect of the Delta variant, which is known to reduce vaccine effectiveness. But healthcare professionals also urge people to get the shots to stop the spread of the virus. The vaccines, according to researchers, are also effective against severe illness and help to reduce hospitalisation numbers and death count.

    An expert in this field, Asiya Kamber Zaidi told Swarajya: "The chances of infection in vaccinated individuals have been relatively lesser when compared to unvaccinated. The CT chest (lung damage) changes have been lesser in vaccinated individuals. However, the chances of breakthrough infections in vaccinated cannot be ruled out. We cannot expect 100 per cent efficacy with any vaccine."

    When asked that while Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca as well as Chinese vaccines are being used by many countries, why some of them are facing a spike in cases, like other experts, Zaidi, an ENT and head neck surgeon with a special interest in Covid-19 research and currently pursuing a research fellowship at Association Naso Sano Italy, also said that no vaccine is 100 per cent is effective.

    "We published a paper on the development of antibodies in recovered COVID-19 patients at 14 months, we have current data on 17 months. None got reinfected and 98 per cent of them have antibodies. Another study on a large cohort was done in Qatar, that demonstrated 95 per cent safety for reinfection in recovered patients. So definitely the countries that experienced a surge and then developed natural immunity will do better in the long run as compared to these vaccines," she further added.

    She also explained that "India witnessed the wrath of the Delta variant recently and vaccinated individuals were protected because of the vaccine is not something new. However, we also saw some people dying of Covid even after being double vaccinated. We still need to be very careful."

    According to Zaidi, apart from vaccines, there are other alternative treatments—Ivermectin, colchicine and many others—which have worked against the virus, and it is something that cannot be disregarded.

    It was earlier hoped that vaccine roll-out will be a game-changer and there were predictions about the end of the pandemic. But what we are seeing now—Covid-19 waves in several countries and new variants to become dominant in different regions. This, once again, showcases the importance of following health safety measures.

    While last year Western experts raised doubts on the Russian vaccine’s efficacy and safety, now the concerns are about Chinese vaccines. But questions have been raised on mRNA vaccines, especially after a study, which revealed that Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was only 42 per cent and Moderna was 76 per cent effective against infection in July—at a time when the Delta variant's prevalence in Minnesota had jumped to over 70 per cent.

    This study data is quite concerning as many countries around the world are using these mRNA vaccines, also as boosters. Understanding the seriousness of the latest data, a senior Biden official said: "If that's not a wake-up call, I don't know what is."

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