Vaccination against Covid-19 is our best shot

Every single vaccination helps us reach herd immunity, which helps individuals, communities and the country

Image: 123RF/ S SILVER

We are now at an inflection point of the Covid-19 pandemic. While there has been extensive disruption and trauma to our lives, we now have a glimmer of hope: the imminent, wide-scale rollout of South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination programme.

It is up to each of us to decide to overcome Covid-19. Here’s why getting your vaccination is important. 

Vaccination is a global health success story: 2-million to 3-million lives are saved every year by vaccinations. They reduce the burden of more than 20 life-threatening diseases, such as diphtheria, tetanus, flu and measles. Thanks to vaccines, we don’t feel the full impact of these diseases today — and it would be wonderful if we could soon say the same for Covid-19.

We know vaccines are safe. They are given to people who are otherwise healthy and free from the disease, so the bar for vaccine safety is extremely high. Side-effects, if any, are caused by the immune system responding to the vaccine and are usually mild and short-lived.

Conversely, the benefits of vaccines are substantial. For example, a study on flu vaccination, supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that flu vaccination among adults reduced the risk of being admitted to the hospital with flu by 37%, and was even more effective in preventing the most severe forms of flu, reducing the risk of being admitted to the ICU with flu by 82%.

The impact of vaccines can also be measured in economic terms. For instance, in the case of childhood vaccinations in low-income countries, for every dollar invested in vaccination $44 is expected to be saved in healthcare costs, lost wages and lost productivity due to illness and death, among other broader benefits. These savings can be re-invested in healthcare.

Vaccines work by introducing small, inactive parts of a pathogen (such as a virus or bacteria) into the body (or, in the case of mRNA vaccines, the blueprints for making these parts). This stimulates the immune system and prepares the body to fight that virus or bacteria effectively if it comes into contact with it later.

We might wonder how the Covid-19 vaccines came about so quickly. Remarkable technology has fueled the development of the various vaccines against the coronavirus. Since the start of the pandemic, scientists around the world began working on creating a vaccine. They followed the same rigorous testing process that all vaccines go through. This includes large clinical trials, involving tens of thousands of people, to identify any potential side-effects and risks.

We need to remember that vaccine developers had a head start thanks to years of previous research on related viruses (such as SARS and Mers) and the large amount of funding made available for vaccine development. The mRNA technology used to prepare some Covid-19 vaccines is quicker than traditional methods of making vaccines.

Getting the Covid-19 vaccine significantly reduces your chances of becoming infected. Additionally, if you do get infected, it lowers your risk of infecting others and becoming severely ill. Most Covid-19 vaccines have been shown to be very effective in preventing severe illness and death.

Experience in other countries with the Covid-19 vaccines conclusively demonstrates that, in the rare case of becoming infected after being vaccinated, those who have been vaccinated have a lower chance of developing serious symptoms.

For the vaccine to work effectively, the country must achieve herd immunity. This means enough of us must be immune to the disease to prevent the virus from spreading. It’s estimated that about 67% of the SA population (40-million) would need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.

We support vaccination because it makes people healthier by preventing infections and severe diseases. When people are healthier, society benefits — each vaccination counts towards herd immunity.

Here’s how the rollout will work in SA:

  • Vaccines will be administered in phases, based on a national prioritisation framework. This phased approach ensures those who are most vulnerable and at risk are vaccinated first.

  • Phase 2 vaccination efforts will focus mainly on the elderly and other vulnerable sections of the population, starting this week.

  • Phase 3 vaccination efforts will focus on the rest of the population and will probably start in October.

  • Vaccines will be administered in accredited vaccination sites across the country, including pharmacies, GP practices, hospitals and dedicated mass vaccination sites. Discovery is also setting up several dedicated vaccination sites to support the rollout.

  • To get the vaccination you will need to register on the national electronic vaccination data system (EVDS).

  • You can also register on the Discovery Covid-19 vaccination portal if you are a Discovery client. This portal is designed to work alongside the national EVDS.

  • Vaccines are free for all South Africans. Medical schemes will cover the cost for their members and the national department of health will cover the cost for those not on medical schemes.

Remember, this is a shared-value initiative — getting vaccinated will help you, society and our country. It is up to you to decide which side of history you choose to be on.

• Dr Mabunda heads Vitality Wellness and sits on the board of directors of Population Services International.


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