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Opinions of Monday, 29 March 2021

Columnist: Naa Adzoa Adzeley Boi-Dsane

Coronavirus: Conspiracy theories, anti-vaxxers, vaccination

The Coronvirus vaccine The Coronvirus vaccine

On the 11th of March, 2020, Dr. Tedros Adhanom (WHO Director) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. What started as an isolated case of a patient experiencing flu-like symptoms on the last day of 2019 in Wuhan, turned out to be a novel version of the crown-like virus that has been with us from time immemorial.

Many countries were gripped with the fear of the unknown and unfortunately, the United States of America, Spain, Italy, China, and Germany were among the countries that were hit the hardest in terms of morbidity and mortality as of 2020.

There were several economic, political, social, and psychological implications of this virus; some of which had very dire consequences. For instance, an article published on the 14th of August, 2020, by Czeisler on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website stated that among 5,470 adults 40.9% were reported to have a mental or behavioral condition including anxiety and depression.

This study was done from the 24th of June to the 30th of the same month in the United States of America. These findings suggest that the pandemic had and is likely to continue to have a detrimental effect on the psychology of people in as much as most of the symptoms (fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat, headache, etc.) are physical.

In Ghana, we had to and are still grappling with the coronavirus since it arrived on the 12th of March, 2020. We had to make many adjustments including the closure of borders, lockdown, and introduction of online lessons for students.

E-learning was one of the biggest adjustments in the education sector because we were hit hard by the virus at a time we were not ready. Many workers from across the country were and are still being laid-off with some people having their salaries reduced or going unpaid for several months.

A glimmer of hope appeared when the Pfizer vaccine (developed by Pfizer and BioNTech) was approved for emergency use on the 11th of December, 2020. However, along with the vaccine, came many conspiracy theories. A conspiracy theory is a belief that an event or situation is the result of a secret plan made by powerful people as defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary.

In order not to perpetuate misinformation, the various conspiracy theories are not going to be mentioned in this article. Traditional media as well as new media (social/digital media) has helped in education and debunking of myths.

However, it is a double-edged sword because there have also been instances where wrong or unverified information got disseminated widely especially via social media outlets. Some companies like Twitter and Facebook have taken the initiative to flag and pull-down unverified or untrue comments that may lead to misinformation of the public which is a step in the right direction.

After Pfizer, several other vaccines like Oxford University’s AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Russia’s Sputnik V (also known as Gamaleya) came along with most of the vaccines being over 90% effective except for AstraZeneca which is between 62-90% but still effective nonetheless.

Both Sputnik V and AstraZeneca can be stored at regular fridge temperature with Sputnik V in its dry form. However, Pfizer-BioNTech must be stored at a temperature of -70 degrees Celsius whereas Moderna can be stored in a -20 degree Celsius temperature for up to 6 months.

In view of the fact that Ghana lacks the facilities to store the aforementioned vaccines, we use the AstraZeneca vaccine which is also effective and the least expensive.

One major concern on the arrival of the vaccines was misinformation on how the vaccines would work and this contributed to several conspiracy theories.

AstraZeneca works by extracting genes from a protein found on the surface of the coronavirus and putting this into a harmless virus so that the vaccine is made. The vaccine can now enter the body via injection and enters the cells which begin to produce proteins called spike proteins.

The immune system is then activated to produce cells that would destroy these spike proteins hence, the body can keep the memory of this so that the next time the coronavirus is encountered, and antibodies are triggered to help fight the virus.

Sputnik V works in a similar fashion and also stores its genetic instructions in DNA while Moderna and Pfizer store theirs in RNA. For the vaccines previously mentioned, two doses apart are required for vaccination exercise to be complete.

The individual must rest after taking the vaccine, drink a lot of fluids, and reports any side effects of the vaccine which may include pain, swelling and redness at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, and fever as stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There were some concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine causing blood clots which lead to some countries in the European Union like Germany, France, Italy, and Spain pausing their vaccination exercises and later continuing after the World Health Organisation concluded following an investigation that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks.

The investigation came after 5 rare cases of blood clots were reported in the United Kingdom out of the 11million people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Other vaccines are still being developed hence are in different phases. The Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki are all ethical principles that guide the execution of research on humans. The Nuremberg code served as a code of conduct in human experimentation and was developed after the Second World War.

This was as a result of the Nuremberg Military Tribunals where 12 people in the military were taken to court for war crimes and atrocities against prisoners of war. Some of the terms of the Nuremberg Code include seeking informed consent from the subject of experimentation, the risk of the experiment not exceeding the benefit, and the participant being free to withdraw participation at any time.

The Declaration of Helsinki also sought to achieve the same thing hence these measures serve as global standards to ensure safety for any human experiment including the development of vaccines.

With vaccination, comes the anti-vaxxers who have deeply entrenched positions either through hearsay or personal experiences. Although adequate vaccine coverage provides herd immunity (protection of those who could not be vaccinated including anti-vaxxers), there is still a risk of COVID-19 lingering on if there is an increase in the indoctrination of the anti-vax mentality. This is why there is the need to curb any form of misinformation via education from reputable and verifiable sources.

Even after the second dose of the vaccine, it is still essential for the vaccinated individual to wear a mask to protect other vulnerable or susceptible groups.

Also, all COVID-19 infection prevention protocols such as handwashing, the use of hand-sanitizers, wearing masks, and social distancing should be followed religiously. Remember that it is better to be 6 feet apart than 6 feet deep.