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Sustainably Yours: What does a COVID vaccine mean?

On November 23rd, 2020 AstraZeneca announced that it had a vaccine that is between 70 to 90% effective, depending on how they administer it. This came shortly after Pfizer and Moderna both announced vaccines with better than 90% efficacy. After 10 months of a global pandemic, this is the first bit of good news and a sign that the world will eventually be able to return to a semblance of normal. 

By Palmer Owyoung

Sunday 13 December 2020, 11:00AM

Many questions remain to be answered about any of the COVID-19 vaccines. Photo: AFP

Many questions remain to be answered about any of the COVID-19 vaccines. Photo: AFP

The Thai government signed a contract with AstraZeneca for the production of 26 million doses, which will begin manufacturing mid-2021 and is in talks to manufacture hundreds of millions of doses to distribute throughout Asia. 

The Unknowns

However, before you plan your vacation to Europe or America, understand there are still a lot of unknowns regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine 1. Does the vaccine actually prevent transmission of the virus, or does it just reduce the symptoms? 2. How long does immunity last? 3. Is it effective against additional strains of the virus? 4. Is the vaccine effective in all populations, including children and the elderly? 

Until we have answers to these questions, there is no way of knowing when we will travel again. Even after the vaccine begins manufacturing, healthcare and frontline workers will have priority, followed by those at greatest risk, including the elderly and those with preexisting conditions, which means it could take until the end of 2021 or longer to distribute it. 

5 Reasons You Should Get the Vaccine 

In a recent Gallup Poll done in the United States, 65% of respondents said they would get the COVID-19 vaccine, leaving 35% who will not.  While the vaccine isn’t mandatory, there are several reasons you should get it when it becomes available next year.   

  1. COVID-19 is a serious disease that is highly contagious. Despite what you may have heard, it is not just a flu and the mortality rate is 4 to 15 times higher. If you are unlucky and have a severe case, it can cause inflammation in the blood vessels and lead to permanent damage to your heart, lungs, and even your brain. 

  2. In order to reach herd immunity, to prevent community transmissions, experts estimate that we need 70% of a population to vaccinate. However, the actual number could be higher or lower depending on the long-term efficacy of the vaccines. 

  3. You will probably need to vaccinate in order to fly on some airlines and to enter some countries.

  4. The quicker we reach herd immunity, the faster the economy will recover.

  5. The choice not to vaccinate yourself doesn’t just affect you, but also the weakest and most compromised people around you, including friends, family and complete strangers. Not only are you putting their lives at risk, but you are also endangering the doctors and nurses who would treat you, should you fall ill.  

Vaccine Safety and Efficacy

Are vaccines 100% safe? The simple answer is no, nothing is 100% safe including vitamins, supplements, pain-killers, aspirin, anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, asthma, cold medication, and hundreds of other over-the-counter drugs you take regularly. Anytime you put a foreign substance into your body you have a risk of an allergic reaction, also known as an adverse event. Vaccines are no different, but you have to weigh the benefits versus the actual risk. 

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A 20-year study published in September 2020 from the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center studied 57 vaccines. During this time hundreds of millions of doses were administered and monitored for adverse events. While they occurred, they were extremely rare and usually involved people who were already immunocompromised or were allergic to ingredients in the vaccines. Daniel Shepshelovich, the lead author of the paper, called vaccines “remarkably safe”, safer than “almost any other modern medical intervention”.

You can read more about vaccine research and safety procedures here

The Original Anti-Vaxxer

Ask people why they are against vaccines and the story usually starts off with “I have a friend…” or “I saw a video on Facebook…” Hardly a scientific method of inquiry. 

Most don’t realise that their belief began in 1998 with a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield, who co-authored a paper published in the medical journal, The Lancet. The study connected the measles mumps rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism. However, in the documentary The Pathological Optimist, Wakefield clarifies that he never said that parents should stop vaccinating their kids. He suggested more studies needed to be carried out and that in the meantime, they should break the vaccine up into three parts. However, the study has since been discredited, and in 2010 the journal retracted it because there were several problems with the paper.

  1. The sample size of 12 children was small, and nobody could ever replicate Wakefield’s results. 

  2. The children involved were not randomly selected and were taken from a group who were already showing signs of autism. 

  3. Wakefield had a financial stake in a lawsuit against vaccine companies at the time he published the study. In addition, he had filed a patent for a multiple dose MMR vaccine.  

  4. A book by journalist Brian Deer called “The Doctor Who Fooled The World,” further discredits Andrew Wakefield by detailing his financial conflicts of interest and noting that he fraudulently covered up some children’s medical records to make it appear as if the MMR vaccine gave them autism. 

  5. The study blamed Thimerasol, a form of mercury, as the cause of autism. In 1999 they removed this ingredient from all vaccines except for a multi-dose flu vaccine, but a single dose version it is available.

  6. Several comprehensive studies including one published in 2019 involving over 650,000 Danish children who received the MMR vaccine concluded, "The study strongly supports that MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism.” Another 2002 study involving 530,000 Danish children came to the same conclusion.   

  7. Wakefield has since had his medical license revoked in the UK and according to Marketplace, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary series, he now makes his living charging $3,000 per speech at anti-vaccine gatherings.  

Other Reasons for Vaccine Hesitancy

Even though Wakefield’s findings were discredited, sentiment against vaccines has continued to rise for several reasons.  

  1. Populism and the lack of trust in governments is on the rise and correlates with the anti-vaccine movement according to Dr. Jonathan Kennedy from Queen Mary University of London. However, scientific research isn’t done by a single country’s government. It is done as a global community. Because results need to be replicable, the community acts as a system of checks and balances against fraud. 

  2. Mistrust in Big Pharma because of the opioid epidemic. This wasn’t a question of science being wrong. It was a question of CEOs, marketers and sales people behaving unethically to push a product for profits over patient welfare. However,  AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have pledged to have a profit moratorium until the second half of 2021. While Pfizer and Moderna could make billions on their vaccines, the new RNA technology they are both using is expensive, and their gross profit margins are lower than is customary. While pharmaceutical companies are hardly angels, they are also not the evil villains that many conspiracy theories paint them out to be. 

  3. Spread of misinformation on social media. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube make money when you watch their videos, read their articles and you either click on their ads or they sell your data about what you are watching or reading. The longer you are engaged, the more data they have to sell about you. They don’t make money by telling the truth and can’t be sued for posting false information, so nothing on these sites needs to be fact-checked. For more about how social media companies manipulate you, watch the Social Dilemma

  4. Belief that governments and Bill Gates are trying to microchip us. This accusation actually gets a lot of attention. However, it would be a terrible way to track people. You can’t put a GPS chip into a shot. You could put in an RFID chip similar to what pets receive but these are passive systems which only work when you walk past a scanning device. The fact is, if you are carrying a smartphone, you can already be tracked, so why would the government want to microchip you?  

The decision to vaccinate or not should be grounded in data and hard facts, not in half-truths, conspiracy theories and lies. You wouldn’t drive drunk, on the wrong side of the road, while texting because it’s reckless and inconsiderate. But you can kill far more people by refusing to get vaccinated. 

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