Pitfalls Africa must avoid over COVID-19 vaccines
Dr. Oyeleye, a consultant, journalist and policy analyst, can be reached via:
April 12, 2021695 views0 comments
RECENTLY, the World Health Organisation (WHO), for the first time, acted boldly against popular sentiments by announcing its opposition to the clamour for vaccination passports for travellers. It attributed its official position to the doubt over whether inoculation prevents transmission of the virus, citing also fairness concerns. The WHO had, from the very outset acted timorously, in less capacity than a global competent authority in its original mishandling of the COVID-19 when it first denied that the disease outbreak was potentially a pandemic and praised China for doing a good job. The organisation has taken some other steps and official positions that eroded much of trust and credibility since the COVID-19 became a global health crisis, so much so that many of its functions have been hijacked by others without health and medical backgrounds and have used the leverage they got to score strong points on social, political and economic fronts.
In a panicky rush to control the yet-to-be-fully-understood pandemic, politicians and the big pharmaceutical companies, particularly those that stand to gain more from promoting vaccines have clearly demonstrated their averseness to any other solution, including pharmaceutical remedies. For them, the cost-benefit analyses on COVID-19 control should be supply-driven rather than from the perspectives of end users. The power of big companies to lobby governments and influence policy direction is not in doubt. Big pharma as monopolies, either singly or as a collective, have influenced major policy decisions about what is offered to the unquestioning public. Meanwhile, vaccines and monoclonal antibodies are supposed to be preventive, not remedial, and those who promoted mass vaccination in instances without adequate statistical data on testing have actually stood scientific logic on its head. Their apparent fixation on vaccination is clearly anything but pure altruism as the vaccine promoters – including the producers – want to recoup their expenses, break even and make profits in addition to the heroism they seek to generate.
Public opinions, including those of the policy makers, have been manipulated through fear mongering and scary narratives. This is made worse by the relative absence of media practitioners with sound medical science background, allowing a knowledge vacuum to expand. Vaccines and monoclonal antibodies have some similar constraints. Vaccines have one peculiar problem which the producers don’t seem keen to let people recognise, let alone focus upon. Viruses mutate, which sometimes render some vaccines ineffective in real disease situations. In cases of viral mutations, the vaccines produced against any particular strain of virus will not be effective against other strains. The same goes for the monoclonal antibodies. Such an approach is even more like gambling in a population without any remarkable figures of testing done.
The basis for vaccination in any virus-induced epidemic is usually weak; sometimes it is based on expediency. Chances are high that the use of such vaccines or antibodies is going to be more of ‘hit or miss’ efforts. Vaccine producers aren’t likely to be sincere enough to educate users adequately on this. They are not likely to add caveat to the use of their products, at least, not like in a typical advert that “tobacco smoking is dangerous to your health,” a disclaimer forced on them by regulatory agencies. New strains of COVID-19 are already reported in Chile, Denmark, the UK and US. These should be troubling enough for those promoting vaccines that have been made without these variants in mind. The protracted complaints against AstraZeneca vaccine, for instance, is a valid cause for concerns irrespective of the public relation stunts from some quarters that “the safety outweighs the risks,” even when the risks and safety parameters have not been juxtaposed for the critical and discerning public to see. So, none of the currently touted COVID-19 vaccines is a silver bullet against the infection.
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What makes the vaccine story scary is the big and aggressive push for vaccines without allowing discussions about alternatives. There are reasons to suspect a high level of conspiracy and secrecy, especially as it is emerging that the virus must have been deliberately spawned and allowed to spread. Earlier observations at the onset of the pandemic and the initial refusal of China to allow experts from WHO to have access to China very recently, then a subsequent volte-face, provided a good basis for suspicion that China has something to hide. Some promoters are, it appears, trying to use people as Guinea Pigs in a global-scale health emergency laboratory. They are providing a fertile ground for suspicion that they are trying to use the measures to achieve some form of control and intrusion into people’s privacy, by using the vaccination certificates to determine people’s international movement as some have already been talking about vaccine passports.
In retrospect, the draconian lockdowns are questionable as they affect various people’s health and survival negatively to various extents. There is something suspicious over the relentless push for only vaccines, even when the price per dose is higher compared with some notable therapeutic products per capita. The interface of economics, governance and medical knowledge still appears poor in COVID-19 control. Sadly and disappointingly, the global mainstream media gleefully sing and repeat the populist refrain without questioning. It is misleading and illusory to assume or believe that these big pharmaceutical companies cannot knowingly do any wrong. They are in business to make money. Any claim or publicly-stated motive that they are out to save lives is just as superficial and secondary as it is self-serving. The big pharma industry in the US was responsible for the opioid addiction epidemics that have rocked the country in the past couple of years. Johnson and Johnson, one of the new comers in the COVID-19 vaccine campaign, was ordered to pay $572 million in a landmark judgment against it in August 2019. Towards the end of 2020, Purdue Phama, another company, was ordered to pay $5.5 billion in penalties, of which $3.54 billion was criminal fine. Their offence was their complicity in promoting opioid addiction, which they did by rewarding doctors for deceiving patients and prescribing the opioids even when not medically relevant or necessary.
Even political leaders seem to be missing something. They tend to politicise the issue too. That played out in the last US election. We heard of listening to science. But whose science, anyway: is it the science of a profit-making company? What good reasons justified criticisms over the use of hydroxychloroquine by some, as was vehemently done in a build-up to the recent election in the US? During crisis time, it is only wise to put all potential solutions on the table. Historically, the first antibiotic was tried on wounded soldiers on the war front during World War II. The logic then was probably that, if nothing was done, the soldiers would still have died anyway. So what difference was it going to make if the antibiotic was used and the wounded soldiers still died? But the antibiotic worked. It saved lives. So, the world had Penicillin as a breakthrough antibiotic, which was accidentally discovered by Alexander Fleming, a bacteriologist and medical researcher at about that period.
Scientists today are therefore expected to research into hydroxychloroquine and see if there is a medical sense in it for the treatment of COVID-19. The Dexamethasone popularised by Eli Lily in the US may very well have upset some vaccine companies, fearing it might take the wind out of their sail. From purely medical perspectives, Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid anti-inflammatory drug that could be recommended for COVID 19 patients as it also reduces oedema (pooling of fluid). Going by documented reports, it was found to have slowed down the infection and hastened the recovery by some days, meaning that it saved lives too. The politics against it in the US is shameful. It did not consider that the word of a General is final even when there is an adviser at the war front.
Why are REGENERON’s Casirivimab and Imdevimab neutralising antibody cocktail not in use, in the US even after receiving emergency use authorisation? It is surprising that people failed to see much prospect in it. This product, according to reports, is the first treatment of any kind to have prospectively confirmed any statistically significant anti-viral activity against SARS-CoV-2. It has been authorised for recently diagnosed, mild to moderate COVID-19 in high-risk patients. It has been successfully used on President Donald Trump during his four days of hospitalisation before the end of their rounds of presidential debates and subsequent rigorous campaign trips. It is worrisome, troubling and disappointing if the world failed to see the usefulness from this high profile case!
There is a scientific validity to the claim about the anti-parasitic IVERMECTIN, for COVID-19 therapy, which means it is appropriate for use. LANCET is one of the globally respected scientific and medical journal publications. A report it published on a research on IVERMECTIN in COVID 19 therapy showed that, “among patients with non-severe COVID-19 and no risk factors for severe disease receiving a single 400 mcg/kg dose of ivermectin within 72 h of fever or cough onset there was no difference in the proportion of PCR positives. There was however a marked reduction of self-reported anosmia/hyposmia, a reduction of cough and a tendency to lower viral loads and lower IgG titers which warrants assessment in larger trials.” It is important to pay attention to the expression “lower viral load,” which means the multiplication of the viruses is arrested. In layman’s terms, it slows down or prevents the multiplication of the viruses.
Many people, especially the environmental activists, hate to hear anything genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food, and that is how far they know. But two of the trending COVID 19 vaccines from the US (Pfizer/Biontech and Moderna) were produced with the same technique, which even makes it faster to bring to the market. In China, health officials using a different technique at first have reportedly recently urged companies to look again at the new technology of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna after hearing of the results of speed and efficacy from these US companies. The world is therefore gradually getting locked in to the mRNA vaccines in which the viruses, rather than inducing your body to produce antibodies by their presence in inactivated forms, would now use your body cells to produce the virus parts for producing the antibody. In simple terms, the virus in the vaccine uses your body cells to replicate its components to produce the antibody. It does not sound that simple. The active ingredient, which is called messenger RNA (mRNA) carries instructions for making spike protein from the virus. This spike protein is used to gain entry to your body cells, which now becomes a machine factory of sorts. Medical scientists still have scanty evidence to prove the lasting safety of such a measure on the whole body system.
A major reason why end users are guinea pigs is better explained by an extract from MedScape, a medical resource channel, stating that one of the limitations of effectiveness of mRNA vaccines is the caveat that they “may not protect all vaccine recipients.” In a simple explanation, out of hundred people receiving the vaccine, many recipients may not even be conferred any protection at all. The percentage may vary from place to place, race to race, gender to gender, age to age, and so on. So, who knows the individuals that will not be protected? The fact that much is yet to be known about the vaccines means it is a global experiment. Moreover, MedScape pointed out that “there are no data available on interchangeability of this vaccine with other COVID-19 vaccines, meaning that the one produced in China may not protect the same way as that from the US, UK or Russia.
So, those taking such a vaccine are taking GMOs and the genes sequenced into each of them may differ from one candidate vaccine to another. What people are not told is the invasiveness of such a vaccine in the process of the so-called protection, which may arise from the penetration of the spike proteins of the virus into cells that are turned into living body vaccines. The results of safety tests on them cannot be said to be conclusive as we are yet to exhaustively document the array of adverse reactions to expect from them. This is so in spite of the push by COVAX (described as the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), GAVI vaccine alliance and the WHO for mass vaccination.
In the meantime, it is safer to view vaccination campaign with a lot of suspicion and misgivings as a commercially-motivated initiative launched on the floor of the World Economic Forum in Davos may be more appealing to business concerns or development theorists and tempting to populist politicians, but not necessarily the most appealing and single solution to a crisis of this sort, even if it has some merits. Good policies warrant thoughts about alternatives; not the straitjacket approach presently being promoted. The world as a whole deserves a better deal. Africa in particular needs to critically examine the main option of vaccines and look at the economic and human costs of vaccination within the African context. This period calls for sound discretion. Africa can choose to be different for good reasons.