Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

Vaccines won’t end the COVID pandemic!

With vaccines against the Coronavirus becoming available in the near future – Britain has already commenced vaccinating its population this week with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine– and US President-elect Joe Biden is promising to vaccinate 100 million Americans within the first hundred days of his administration – there is a serious danger that we will run away with the idea that once we start vaccination programmes we will end the COVID Pandemic.

It is important for us all to realise that vaccination involves giving a person an injection containing a weakened form of a virus that cannot make them sick, but would enter the cells in their bodies and train the body’s immune system to prevent them getting sick if the “wild” form of that virus enters the body.. The immune cells that are primed by this artificial exposure to the weakened virus in the vaccine are then able to recognise the “spike protein” of this particular Corona virus and so produce antibodies that prevent the COVID-19 virus attacking those cells. Both the Oxford-Astra vaccine and the Chinese vaccine work on this same principle – strengthening the body’s immune response so that the dangerous COVID-19 virus cannot enter the cells and cause sickness.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine unlike the other two vaccines, is not made from a live virus that has been weakened or killed. It relies instead on a form of genetic material called messenger RNA (mRNA) that acts on the body’s cells to initiate the process of producing antibodies. 

Now the COVID virus, if it infects the cells of a human body, can make that infected person very dangerously ill. Not everyone who catches the virus gets ill – although some of those who do get sick can get dangerously and life-threateningly sick. This is why the COVID pandemic has inundated and over-stretched hospitals with seriously ill patients who have to be treated in specialist respiratory wards and intensive care units – and has contributed to such a devastating number of deaths all over the world. Whatever Donald Trump may say, the Covid 19 Virus Kills people.

Many people who catch the COVID virus do not get dangerously ill. Some have an influnza-like illness with fever, cough, body aches etc.- and recover in due course with minimal side effects. Some people who recover will have long term side effects like breathlessness and reduced lung function – although the extent and severity of the long term respiratory complications of covid-19 infection are not as yet known.

While we can safely assume that all these vaccines will be effective in preventing people from getting ill with the virus – what many folk do NOT know is that these vaccines cannot prevent people from catching the virus.

The trials have all shown that vaccines (with varying efficacy) prevented those who were vaccinated from getting symptomatic COVID-19 infection. We do not yet know whether vaccination will protect people from catching the virus and not developing any symptoms of illness but continuing to harbour the virus in their airways – from where they can pass it in on to others.

So does Vaccinaton stop people from catching and transmitting the virus?
We do not know and cannot tell. The current consensus is that vaccination will prevent people getting sick if they catch COVID-9 infection – but it will not prevent people still catching the germ from others, remaining without any symptoms, and then passing on the virus to others – who could then come down with a serious or even fatal attakh of COVID-19 infection. Pfizer says it is carrying out more studies on this important question and will release information soon – but for the moment nobody knows the answer.

So before we line up to get vaccinated with the idea of then throwing away our masks, starting to congregate together in large numbers and stop washing our hands, it is well worth remembering this:

Vaccinations WILL stop you getting seriously ill with Corona.

However Vaccines CANNOT stop you catching the virus, remaining asymptomatic and transmitting the COVID-19 virus to others more vulnerable than yourselves.


3 comments on “Vaccines won’t end the COVID pandemic!

  1. Sri Varman
    December 13, 2020

    Thanks Sanjeeva,
    I vividly remember, my microbiology exam, practicals, in July 1969, at the end of the 4th year in the medical school in Peradeniya.
    The group that day +- 17 candidates, were given two slides of throat swab, from a boy, 10 year old, who, c/o, fever, and sore throat. Schick test +ve.
    I stained one slide with Gram stain, and the other with methylene blue.
    There were two examiners, one local, other visiting examiner.
    After giving a reasonable time one of the examiners will approach the candidate, and question him/her.
    I got the local examiner and the conversation went like this:
    Examiner: what is your finding?
    Me: the gram stain, shows a few, +ve cocci. ( he looks at the slide through the microscope). The methylene blue stain, shows, sheets of +ve organism, likely to be Corynebacterium diphtheriae.
    E: what do you think, the child is suffering from?
    M: probably viral tonsillitis
    E: not diphtheria?
    M: he is Schick +ve, so unlikely to be diphtheria.
    E: OK, what do you want to do with him?
    M: I will treat him with a course of antibiotics.
    E: Why?
    M: He is immune to diphtheria, but he can infect, other non immune children.
    E: Good.
    The examiner, moves to the next candidate.

  2. Anoma R Ratwatte
    December 14, 2020

    And also for those diseases, could you carry and transmit the disease, even if your body is fighting it?

    • Dr. Sanjiva Wijesinha
      December 14, 2020

      thanks for your very pertinent question Anoma. I will try to answer this in another article. Give me a few days.

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This entry was posted on December 12, 2020 by in covid, Health Matters, Opinion and tagged , , .
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