Sometime last month, when Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi was infected with Covid-19 days after getting vaccinated, there followed a lot of public chatter that the vaccine was useless. What’s the point of the vaccine if I am going to get infected, people asked.
Medical experts tell us that the point of AstraZeneca and other Covid-19 vaccines is not to stop infection. Actually they don’t. Not after the first dose. The point is to stop severe symptoms, which would lead to hospitalisation or death.
Infections with mild to moderate effects will occur, but nothing too serious. After the second jab, immunity should be much strengthened. Severe sickness and hospitalisation lead to a heavy strain on hospitals and especially ICU beds, which Kenya is critically short of.
The other misconception arises from efficacy rates. Some vaccines, like Pfizer-BioNTech or Sputnik V, show rates of 90 per cent-plus. Johnson & Johnson’s is just 66 per cent. AstraZeneca is somewhere in between.
This, however, does not mean AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are less good. What it means is that each vaccine was tested in different circumstances. Meaning they underwent clinical trials at different times and different places, hence the different results.
The Pfizer vaccine was tested mainly in the US, at a time just before a huge Covid-19 surge there mid-last year. Johnson & Johnson's trials were done when the surge was ongoing. That meant chances of participants getting infected were higher than when Pfizer did their trials.
Also, Johnson & Johnson did their other trials in Brazil and South Africa, where it turns out there were new mutants, or variants, of coronavirus that are particularly aggressive, another being a UK mutant.
The long and short of it is that a vaccine works not when it stops infection, but when it blocks that infection from getting severe, leading to death. And that is a giant step to stemming the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Judged from that perspective, all the vaccines on the market are equally effective.
A study carried out in the US concludes none has resulted in death. (A couple of deaths in Europe of patients who had taken AstraZeneca occurred from blood clots deemed to have resulted from unrelated causes — but scientists and regulators are still investigating further).
Some local sceptics say they first want to see AstraZeneca cure those with Covid-19. Unfortunately vaccines don't cure; they prevent disease. In fact, mass inoculation against polio and smallpox worldwide led to the virtual eradication of those two diseases.
Perhaps for similar aims scientists have put more effort in getting vaccines for the coronavirus than in getting curative drugs. Pfizer says it's working on that, but priority has been given to vaccines.
So far, Covid-19 symptoms are being treated with cocktails of drugs and steroids, as is done with other viral diseases such as HIV/Aids. Each vaccine has its merits and demerits. The Pfizer vaccine, manufactured by the company which previously was better known for Viagra, has to be stored in minus 70 degrees Celsius. Such storage infrastructure is a problem in Africa.
AstraZeneca is convenient because it can be stored at normal refrigerator temperature. Johnson & Johnson's may also turn out to be quite popular because you need only one jab, not two as is the case with the other vaccines.We are now in the so-called third wave of Covid-19 infections in Kenya.
The science of waves is fairly straightforward. Human behaviour is the main culprit. How individual people and governments respond to the pandemic determines if there will be a spike in transmissions. At the basic level, people are encouraged to physically distance, wash hands regularly, and wear masks.
"Super-spreader" events like political rallies and other mass gatherings are particularly responsible for causing big rises in transmissions. Lockdowns, partial or total, are resorted to by governments to help cut this chain of transmission. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in the US, a world leader in medical science, refuted an early contention that surges manifest with more testing, noting that the numbers of people falling sick or dying actually increase.
Lockdowns are not popular owing to the major disruptions they cause. In our case, partially locking down Nairobi and four neighbouring counties has brought a great deal of discontent.
Most affected are those in the hospitality sector, especially bars and restaurants, which were ordered closed. This is the second time they are being shut down – this time targeting five counties, including the capital Nairobi – or sharply scaling back their operations.The first time they were forced to lay off thousands of staffers.
Depending on how long this second lockdown will last, many establishments fear they may not recover. Even in Europe, new lockdown restrictions have been met with public protests. The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry has pleaded for a relaxation of the restrictions, urging for a "balance" between Covid-19 containment and the survival of small and medium-size enterprises.
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When President Mwai Kibaki ordered a full-time police guard for Mama Sarah Obama at her Siaya home, he wasn’t just doing idle games. This was the grandmother of US President Barack Obama.
Can you imagine if a terror group kidnapped, or killed, the old lady to make a morbid political point? It would have been an international crisis, with Kenya in the thick of it. Kibaki's move to have the woman guarded was very much in order.Go well, Mama Sarah.