COVID-19 jabs only effective with mass vaccination - experts

Experts say without mass vaccination even those vaccinated already remain at risk

Experts say without mass vaccination even those vaccinated already remain at risk

The AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine will only be able to offer protection against the coronavirus disease and stop deaths or severe cases after more Ugandans have been vaccinated, health experts have said.

According to the experts, the reported deaths of already vaccinated personnel does not prove that the vaccine is ineffective, but rather that more people need to get vaccinated so that herd immunity can be built.

So far at only 3.3 per cent of the targeted 26.7 million people have received one jab in Uganda, yet the country needs to vaccinate at least 65 per cent of its population. Last week, Uganda received another 175,000 vaccine doses donation to add to the earlier 900,000 doses received from the COVAX Facility and the Indian goverment. More vaccines are expected in the country next month. 

Dr Misaki Wayengera, a virologist and head of the ministerial Covid-19 scientific task force, says more vaccinations need to be carried out and that people who have been vaccinated need to continue protecting themselves for at least 20 days to guarantee their safety.

"After vaccination the level of immunity is low. Immunity is built after a while. People who have been vaccinated need to observe all SOPs for at least 20 days as the body builds immunity," Wayengera said.

"Vaccines work in a communal manner; you need to have more people vaccinated to protect one another. You cannot be the lone island that you're the only person who is vaccinated and you're living among people who are not vaccinated, and you think you, you will be protected. The amount of exposure will be too high, ultimately you might get exposed. Some people might have been vaccinated with one jab." he said. 

Adding: If you have 60% vaccinated, it means amongst 100 people, only 60 will be protected that is the first dose. If you have the second dose, it means 92 per cent will be protected, 8 will not be protected. It means that those 8 will still be exposed, they might get severe disease, they might die. But if you have more people in community vaccinated, then the chances that you're protected even increase. It is the compounding thing that we call mutualism. You're more safe if you're seated among vaccinated people."

As of now, there's no data to indicate how many vaccinated people have succumbed to Covid-19 in the country. However, in light of the high number of infections being reported, Dr Alfred Driwale, the programme manager of the Uganda National Expanded Programme (UNEPI) says deaths if any should not be a surprise since vaccines cannot protect all persons.

According to Driwale, with every vaccination that takes place, 14 per cent of those vaccinated are likely not to receive protection offered by the vaccine. As such, they might need a booster dose to get protection or be protected by others getting vaccinated.

"From the word go, we all know that no vaccine is 100 per cent effective. If the effectiveness is 86 per cent which means 14 per cent of the people will not benefit from being vaccinated. At an individual level those who will not benefit, the 14 per cent will bear the consequences, the side effects against what we're vaccinating people. Therefore, if you look at these figures in absolute terms, it may not give you a good picture but it is more important to compare the people who are vaccinated with the outcomes of those who have not been vaccinated," Driwale said. 

The second round of vaccination is expected to start next week on Monday and only people getting their second jab will be vaccinated.  However, with Covid-19 variants circulating in the country, some of which have proved to be resistant to vaccines, Wayengera says more than two doses of the vaccines might be needed.

"Right now, there are studies that recommend getting more than two jabs of the vaccines for optimal protections especially in settings with variants. So we might need to do that but even then, people will need to take precaution after getting each dose," he explained.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd