Some countries, such as Tanzania and Madagascar, have issued statements indicating that they do not intend to vaccinate their populations against COVID-19. Moina Spooner, editor-in-chief of The Conversation Africa, asked pathology expert Dr Ahmed Kalebi to explain what this means for the global effort to contain the pandemic.
What are the risks if not everyone is vaccinated against COVID-19?
In countries where no significant proportion of the population is vaccinated, there is a huge risk of continued community spread of COVID-19 over an extended period of time.
The longer the period of sustained community spread, the more likely it is for the virus to mutate. And that means it could be fertile ground for the new coronavirus – SARS-CoV-2 – to mutate into more aggressive variants. Mutated variants from the unvaccinated population may be able to infect even those from the vaccinated population.
Vaccines may not work against mutated variants because of changes that occur in the genetic code of the virus. A vaccine is intended to create an immune response through antibodies designed to recognize the protein structure of the virus that has been altered. Think of it as an enemy altering their military uniform, becoming less recognizable to the opposing army.
They can also escape immunity induced by a previous infection for similar reasons – immunity was designed for the structure of that original virus. The modified virus would not be easily recognized by antibodies from the previous infection. Therefore, the mutated strains could infect those already vaccinated, causing reinfection.
This means that everyone would continue to be vulnerable. Even those who live in areas where the population has already been vaccinated would not be fully protected against the virus if the virus were to mutate elsewhere. Given the interdependence of countries and regions of the world, no population lives in total isolation. No particular population is safe unless all populations are.
This coronavirus is easily transmitted from person to person through the air. Any new mutated, and possibly deadlier, variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus could be more contagious and easily spread around the world. Just like the original virus.
The whole world will only be safe after ensuring that all populations are properly immunized. It seems unlikely that the pandemic can be fully contained with existing prevention measures or that it will end soon. This happens when infections slow down because a significant proportion of the population has developed ‘herd immunity’, either as a result of a previous infection or vaccination, or when the movement of people fueling the epidemic is completely stopped. The virus cannot then be transmitted quickly – from one person or segment of the population to another – much like the way a bush or forest fire goes out when most plants are already charred, or if there is no more wind to propel. fire and therefore cannot continue to spread.
How can governments mitigate these risks?
It will not be realistic for countries that have vaccinated their populations to close their borders to countries that have not. Unless vaccinated countries completely close their borders to the rest of the world, there will always be interaction between their citizens and citizens of unvaccinated countries.
To protect against the virus, governments need to deploy vaccines quickly. Vaccines provide the most effective and controllable preventive measures to contain any viral infection. In particular, one that is highly transmissible like SARS-CoV-2. There is also no real possibility of antiviral treatment or a cure, as at present there are no antiviral drugs in the pipeline that have shown any indication of efficacy against COVID-19. .
As different countries wait to access vaccines and immunize their populations, other public health measures known to slow or mitigate the spread of COVID-19 should continue to be applied. This will limit the intra-community and inter-community spread of the virus, reducing the rate of reproduction and mutations. It will also minimize hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
These measures include the use of face masks, hand washing and social distancing.
Where there is an indication of an imminent increase in infection rates, authorities must act quickly to put in place “circuit breaker” action to prevent the surge. These include the imposition of mass lockdowns and quarantines in a geographically targeted manner.
Read more: How Ireland bypassed one of the world’s biggest peaks in COVID cases
Monitoring the rate of infection and the extent of the virus’s spread through laboratory tests for the virus – and genomic tests for mutations – is essential to inform and guide authorities on what to do next. Screening capacity therefore needs to be increased, including tests that detect the virus – such as PCR and antigen tests – and serological (antibody) tests that check those who have already been infected and have developed some immunity.
Having these data will allow mapping of serosurveillance – antibody screening – and monitoring. Serosurveillance can also guide the prioritization of vaccine distribution.
This shows the importance of using science in approaches to dealing with the pandemic. Governments also need to work together – as a global community – to make this work for everyone.
What approach should governments take to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic?
Governments must work together to increase production and global supply of the vaccine as soon as possible. It is essential that most of the world’s population can access the vaccine as quickly as possible. This requires abolishing “vaccine nationalism” and hoarding.
Read more: No country is an island: The collective approach to COVID-19 vaccines is the only way forward
Funding and support for existing vaccine production sites must also be increased, and new vaccine production sites must be created, including in disadvantaged and underdeveloped countries. This would be done through technology transfers with shared intellectual property and technical capacity for vaccines that have already proven effective.
The solution lies in a concerted global approach to ensure the safety of the whole world. No one will be completely safe from a pandemic unless the whole world is collectively safe.
This article originally appeared in The Conversation.
What happens if some countries do not vaccinate?
SourceWhat happens if some countries do not vaccinate?