Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
Dr. Colin V. Alert, MB BS, DM. is a family physician and associate UWI family medicine lecturer
The radio call-in programs seem to be bombarded with persons who claim not to be anti-vaxers, but yet attempt to put forward a multitude of reasons why the vaccine should be avoided. While I can’t respond to all their concerns, and many concerns are genuine, there are still some ‘facts’ that some of these persons choose to overlook.
Neither of the two anti-COVID vaccines we get here in Barbados, the Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine nor the Sinopharm vaccine, developed specifically against the earlier versions of the covid virus, have shown (nor claim to be) 100 per cent effective. For argument sake, let’s say the figure is 80 per cent here.
This means that 20 per cent of persons who got two doses of either vaccine will not be “genuinely protected”. These persons can still contract covid – breakthrough infections- and these persons can still spread covid to other persons. This means that, even after two doses of either vaccine, there will be a small percentage of persons that can become seriously ill, at risk of death, and can continue to spread the virus.
If one is “genuinely” fully vaccinated after two shots, your chance of getting ill and/or requiring tertiary care (hospitalisation) are significantly reduced, but there is still a small chance that you can spread the virus, particularly to unvaccinated persons.
To further complicate matters, the virus continues to evolve.
The efficacy figures came out from studies when an earlier version of the covid virus, e.g. the Alpha variant, was the dominant strains in circulation. Since then, newer strains have emerged as the newest ‘bad boys on the block’.
The Delta strain is one of these. The Delta strain spreads more quickly than earlier strains, i.e. it is more contagious. It is presently unclear whether the Delta variant is more deadly than earlier versions of the virus.
When the Alpha version dominated, about 80 per cent of persons who contracted the virus had no symptoms (but could still spread the disease), 15 per cent got mild symptoms, and about five per cent became seriously ill, often requiring hospitalisation. Many of those that ended up in hospitals died.
We do not know if these proportions apply to the Delta variant: what we do know is that the Delta variant is causing more hospitalisations and more deaths in places where it is increasingly running rampant. The Delta variant also seems to be more dangerous to children, while earlier versions focused on the elderly and those with co-morbidities. Presumably we do not want that to happen here.
We also do not accurately know from studies how effective the vaccines are against the Delta variant. [In the USA, the makers of the two vaccines primarily used over there are considering whether the m-RNA vaccine needs to be ‘tweaked’ and if (or when) a booster (third) dose needs to be administered].
Our current vaccines still seem to be stopping (or at least slowing) persons from becoming seriously ill with the Delta variant lurking around, even though they may not stop the person from contracting covid and potentially becoming an asymptomatic carrier. This supports the continued use of face masks and other protective measures, even in the vaccinated, to mitigate the spread of disease in our community.
And the story does not end here. More variants are possible: already a variant coming out of Peru (the Lambada variant) seems to be the designated successor to the Delta variant, which seemed to come out of India. It is currently unknown what would happen when this variant encounters persons fully vaccinated (effectively) against the earlier versions.
The longer we allow the viruses to stick around, the greater is the chance of new variants emerging. Newer variants can be more resistant to our current vaccines: we may not be able to access any new vaccines fast enough, to afford to keep paying for the vaccines, or to distribute the vaccine to large enough proportions of our populations, to stay ahead of COVID and its variants.
At this time about 25 per cent of our Barbadian population has gotten two doses of vaccine; herd immunity against the Alpha strain requires about 70 per cent of population to be fully vaccinated. It is estimated that this figure may rise to 90 per cent for the Delta variant, so we are still a long way off after five months of an immunisation campaign.
Vaccinate now, while we have the vaccine. Vaccinate now, as we try to reach herd immunity and stop the spread of covid and its variants. Vaccinate now, while we still have a vaccine that is at least partially effective.
We have seen that, even in persons not directly affected by the disease, their businesses have been closed (some permanently), their children’s education has been disrupted, persons have been laid off, and the country (at least economically) has been on a downward spiral. Even unvaccinated persons cannot escape all these negative issues that accompany COVID, even if they do not came down with the disease. Get your vaccine now: it can protect you, it can protect our children, and it can protect the country.