With the announcement of the successful and complete production of COVID-19 vaccines with over 75% efficacy, the world thought it has finally conquered this pandemic. Among the host of nations with high hopes of eradicating the virus is Seychelles – a small, geographically isolated island in the Indian ocean with an estimated population of less than 100,000. With its economy relying greatly on tourism, the travel bans which were put in place to curb the spread of the virus took a great toll on the economic growth. Seychelles on the above note took on an ambitious goal of vaccinating its population and reaching herd immunity within weeks. This was made known by President Wavel Ramkalawan earlier this year. Despite limited capacity to achieve this goal, the nation through diplomatic relations sought help from regional allies which led to it attaining a vaccination status of over 60% of its population – making it the most vaccinated nation on the surface of the planet. This truly is no small achievement.
It was a good ride until recently when it started recording the largest number of coronavirus cases per capita ever – an average of just over 100 new cases per day. Though this number seems relatively small, for a country with a population of less than 100,000, it is an alarming number – enough to overwhelm the already strained health sector, plus the new cases also involve the healthcare professionals. On a per-capita basis, this outbreak is worse than India’s raging surge. For the above reason, the nation has reinstated the previously lifted coronavirus restrictions including school closure. This recent surge begs the question why? Why the surge despite the high vaccination status?
The following may account for the recent surge:
Decreased Vaccine Effectiveness
Seychelles utilized two vaccines in the vaccination of its populace – the vaccine from the Chinese company Sinopharm and the AstraZeneca vaccine. The Sinopharm vaccine was donated to the Seychelles government by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) while the AstraZeneca vaccine was produced by the Serum Institute of India.
The World Health Organization estimates the efficacy of the Sinopharm Vaccine at just above 78% for adults below the age of 60. There is however very little data available for those above the age of 60. The UAE has put out the word to those who received the Sinopharm vaccine to come for third doses, citing low immune responses as the reason. US trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine show it has an efficacy of 79% overall. These data infer that Seychelles may have used a vaccine that has considerably low efficacy against symptomatic Covid-19 compared to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines whose efficacy rate is found to be around 95%. Although the country has suffered a relatively low number of deaths from coronavirus – 28 out of more than 6,000 cases, the recent spike in the number of cases may confirm that the vaccines used in the country have comparatively low efficacy.
The Return of Tourists
Earlier this year, after almost a year of strict border controls, the government said it was opening its borders to tourists beginning March 25. There would be no quarantine requirements and visitors would not need to be vaccinated, though they would need to show negative PCR tests taken less than 72 hours before travel. This move by the government was a pragmatic one as tourism account for about a quarter of its economic output. However, since the reopening of its borders, the number of new cases has more than doubled. A clear link between this spike and the reopening of borders has not been established but it is a factor worth giving attention to as about 10% of those testing positive for the virus are tourists.
The recent trend in the coronavirus status in Seychelles has begged questions bothering on the relative effectiveness of vaccines being rolled out, the percentage of vaccinated populace required to attain herd immunity, and if the world is ready to allow free movement across its borders. A few things however remain paramount if curbing this pandemic is still of utmost importance – regular handwashing, wearing facemasks, and social distancing.