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Coronavirus diary – Part 47

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(Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP)

I have previously discussed the COVID-19 variants. But matters are arising, and that is the pre-occupation of this piece. It is about the vaccine dilemma in relation to Covid-19 and its variants. It would be recalled that experts had warned about the implication of coronavirus mutation for the scramble to acquire vaccines, still perceived now as the elixir. It was a warning against the Gbogbonise Syndrome, i.e., the cure-all obsession of the vaccine protagonists. The earlier forebodings have been proven right. The gamechanger is that mutation has occurred and would continue perhaps until perhaps man arrives at history by eliminating the sinister COVID-19.

In his report in The Washington Post, titled, “U.K. coronavirus variant spreading rapidly through United States, study finds”, published February 7, 2021, Joel Achenbach noted that, “… the virus is continuing to mutate, and with transmission at such high levels — both in the United States and globally — the variants have abundant opportunities to change further as they react to the human immune system and to therapies administered to patients with protracted infections”. The worries come with the South African and Brazilian variants, namely, the B.1.351 and B.1.1.28.1 or P.1 respectively. There are changes to the spike protein with which the virus attaches itself to the human host. The mutation code is E484K, otherwise nicknamed ‘Eeek” or “Erick”. The new sheriffs in town, as I have qualified the emergent variants in the preceding part of this serial, are rattling the medical community.

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Experts have expressed their fears that the emergent vaccines might not be able to deal with the variants in circulation. William Booth and Carolyn Y. Johnson in their comprehensive report titled, “South Africa suspends Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine rollout after researchers report ‘minimal’ protection against coronavirus variant” in The Washington Post of February 7, 2021, noted that, “The preliminary data is a potential setback and bolsters concern that some of the emerging variants of the virus might be able to elude at least some of the new vaccines.” Achenbach noted the worries by some experts that vaccines might not crack the strains of the coronavirus swirling around in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil. Achenbach further acknowledged the view of the Oxford vaccine developer, Sarah Gilbert who told the BBC that the vaccines now in use worldwide have a lesser effect on some of the variants in circulation. The reality prompted Professor Gilbert to hint that a modified version of the vaccine to deal with the South African variant was in the offing.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases has conducted trials with blood samples from 44 people who previously had Covid-19 to find out if their antibodies could work against the 501Y.V2 variant and found to its dismay that the neutralizing antibodies were not able to neutralize the new variant indicating susceptibility to reinfection.

Also, researchers from Rockefeller University noticed that the antibodies could not restrain some of the mutants indicating, according to Rockefeller’s Dr. Michel Nussenzweig, who lead the study, the mRNA vaccines ” may need to be updated periodically to avoid potential loss of clinical efficiency… it’s small difference but it is definitely a difference”. The caveat is that these are preliminary studies.

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The point must be made that the vaccines have been rolled out, and to begin to insinuate their ineffectiveness would be a big blow to capital. So efforts must be made to underscore their usefulness. Mahmood Mamdani in his Imperialism and Fascism in Uganda, first published in 1983, noted that propaganda “is most effective when it is based on concrete facts. The trick lies in presenting selected facts while obscuring the total picture.” And so as noted by Booth and Johnson, “Vaccine developers say they are creating “libraries” of tweaked vaccines that they could quickly test against emerging viral variants. They say that new and improved versions of their vaccines could be tested and released within the year, if necessary”.

Noah Higgins-Dunn writing under the ‘Health and Science’ column of the Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC), January 21, 2021, quoted Anthony Fauci, the vaccine czar, saying that ‘the COVID-19 vaccines on the market may not be as effective in guarding against more contagious strains of the coronavirus” based on emerging data, and with a caveat to the effect that “Even if the drugs are less effective, they will still likely provide enough protection to make the vaccines worth getting”. With a note of optimism, Fauci adds that the “Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it. There are alternative plans if we ever have to modify the vaccine. That’s not something that is a very onerous thing; we can do that given the platforms we have.” In the same vein, Mr. Edward Argar, British Health Minister in an interview with the BBC observed that every study must be taken seriously even though no hard evidence that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was not effective at preventing complications that key to the vaccine. He, however, noted that an annual inoculation could be required to combat the new sheriffs in town.

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Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is forward-looking on the extant vaccines being able to take care of the new variants. According to her, “I’m really optimistic about how these variants are going to go… I could be wrong. It could be that we’ll find variants and variants may emerge … where the vaccine is less potent, but I’m still currently optimistic.” The WHO is more cautious, with a mindset that not everything is known about the Coronavirus. WHO’s immunisation director, Kate O’Brien remarked that “This is really evolving information and there are a number of ways evaluations can be done to understand whether or not any … of the vaccines are less effective against the variants.”

Given the foregoing analysis, unless the scientific community elects to be creative, seeks non-vaccine alternatives to the COVID-19 and its variants; humanity is headed on the path to a vaccine trap and the corresponding toxification.

Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.

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