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Ghana COVID-19 Vaccines Q&A Part 1

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Question 1

We are not sick so why should we take Covid vaccines?

Answer:
Vaccines are traditionally not to cure sickness. They are to prevent you from getting sick. Sickness is a big loss to you and the nation and so vaccines are designed to boost/prime your immune system against specific diseases. The concept of “vaccination” has been in practice since the 10th century.
If you were born in Ghana , you are already likely to have received over 10 vaccines. The first evidence is the mark/scar on your right shoulder(You can check on yours as you read). That scar is from a Tuberculosis Vaccine administered to children born in Ghana and many other parts of the world where TB is a problem. When mothers take their babies for weighing, the injections and oral capsule administered are vaccines.
Vaccines account for the close to zero cases of polio, measles, whooping cough and other common childhood diseases we previously saw in our communities. In recent times, the vaccine against Hepatitis B has become a very common one.

Vaccines are not harmful.

Reference for further understanding:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7095920/

Question 2
HIV and malaria have been around for years and we still do not have a vaccine against either of them so how come we have a vaccine for COVID-19 in just one year ?

Answer:

It is true that HIV and Malaria have been around for years. It is however NOT TRUE that there are no vaccines against these conditions. There are vaccines for malaria and there are many vaccine candidates against HIV. However, the best vaccine against malaria so far is only about 40% efficacious and so is not considered economically viable for mass administration.

Vaccines against these infections have not been so successful because of the peculiar nature of the causative organisms for these infections. The HIV virus is very potent and has a million and one ways of dodging the immune system. As we all know, it quite easily destroys your immune system and makes you susceptible to other infections. Same for the malaria parasite. It so easily masks itself and varies its presentation to the immune system. Hence, finding specific targets on these pathogens for vaccine development has been very difficult. But there have been many attempts and varied success rates. Research is still ongoing and in future, we may be lucky. There actually was a malaria vaccine trial in Ghana and a number of other African countries not too long ago. There were no safety concerns.

Covid on the other hand seems not too sophisticated a virus. But for the mutations it is undergoing so easily to give rise to different strains(I’ll explain this in another question), its main immunological mechanism is quite straightforward. You must have heard a lot about the spike protein. The spike protein of the virus which resides on its surface has been found to be key in how the virus attaches itself to human cells. When the protein is destroyed, the virus struggles. Hence most of the vaccines in the system target this protein.
Developing a vaccine against COVID has therefore been quite straightforward in principle. This by extension also explains why some of the vaccines do not work against certain strains. If a strain emerges with a different shade of the spike protein, previously developed vaccines may struggle against that strain. The advantage in using the technology underlying the Pfeizer vaccine for instance is the fact that it is pliable and will be easy to manipulate to develop a booster jab against problematic new strains.

So clearly, there have been successful vaccines against many diseases including some cancers. Cervical cancer vaccines are quite common and in some countries, all young ladies receive a short. It is available in Ghana but only for those who can afford. I have attached below a list of many vaccines against different infections available on the market.

The ease with which a vaccine is developed against an infection is very heavily dependent on how complex the organism causing that infection is. Note that immunological complexity is not exactly correlated to the severity of the disease it causes. It is just a matter of how the pathogen works. I would say COVID-19 is more lethal than malaria even though the malaria parasite is more immunologically sophisticated than the Covid virus.

Reference for further understanding:
1. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/vaccines-list.html
2. https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/articles/malaria-and-malaria-vaccine-candidates

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