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Lessons from COVID-19 vaccines to date

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COVID-19 vaccines. David Ryder/Getty Images/AFP


The government of Mongolia promised its people a COVID free summer; Bahrain said there would be a return to normal life by June 2021. The island nation of Seychelles aimed to jump start its economy this summer. All three put their faith in the easily accessible Chinese -made vaccines, but instead of freedom from coronavirus, all three countries are now battling a surge in coronavirus infections. The Chinese vaccines they relied on have been ineffective.
 
In the USA, 45 percent of the population is fully vaccinated from doses made by Pfizer and Moderna.  COVID-19 cases have dropped 94 percent over six months. Israel provided shots from Pfizer and has the second highest vaccination rate in the world after the Seychelles. The new daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in Israel is now as low as 4.95 per million.
 
Disparities such as these would create a world in which three types of countries emerge from the pandemic. The wealthy nations that used their resources to procure Pfizer and Moderna shots, the poorer countries that are unable to immunize a majority of their citizens and those that are fully inoculated but only partially protected.
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Margaret Keenan was the first person to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Coventry, Britain on December 8, 2020. Signs are so far encouraging in terms of protection, safety and saving lives. More than 2 billion doses have been administered globally. One thing we know for sure: vaccine shots don’t make you magnetic. Those fortunate enough to receive doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been serving as test subjects. Roughly half a year into this global experiment, what have we learned so far?
 
A pair of studies published in May suggested that vaccination can indeed provide a path out of the pandemic and that by the end of this month of June, 2 billion doses would have been administered worldwide since the first went to a woman in the UK last December. COVID-19 vaccines have saved an estimated 12,000 lives in England alone by last month. China has been vaccinating a population the size of Romania everyday, and San Francisco, where nearly 70 percent of residents had been fully vaccinated as of early this month, is the first US city on the verge of herd immunity.
 
Globally, daily confirmed cases and deaths have been trending downward since April. To date, it is safe to say, vaccines seem to be working well. One real world study published in March, of the people in Denmark prioritized for the Pfizer vaccine found it was 90 percent effective among healthcare workers and 64 percent effective among residents of long term hospital care facilities with a median age of 84.
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However, troubling COVID-19 variants like “Delta” in India, the UK, and the US have raised questions about their resilience to vaccines. A British study published last month found that two doses of Pfizer vaccine were 88 percent effective against symptomatic disease from Delta, though epidemiologists have warned that variants could ultimately render current vaccines ineffective in a year or less.
 
Potential side effects have been another concern. Rare occurrences of the blood clotting syndrome have been linked to the Oxford- AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccines, but experts say the benefits still outweigh the risks. One fact overshadowing any good news about vaccines is that much of the world hasn’t yet been able to receive any doses at all. Two visits to Ajeabo Health Centre, Ilasamaja, Lagos have not gained me any chance of the first dose. By the time of my last visit on the ides of June, the first doses have finished. Analysts avow that more than 85 countries, mostly in Africa won’t have COVID-19 vaccine access before 2023.
 
A significant study published in April in the UK found that receiving a single dose of Pfizer and Oxford- AstraZeneca vaccines notably reduced infecting other household members; and another published last month found that the viral load was significantly diminished for people in Israel infected a couple of weeks past their first dose of Pfizer—making them less infectious to others. Unfortunately, a great number of people remain reluctant to be vaccinated.

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