Unless one just got back from a trip to space and with no form of communication with earth, the tales of the COVID-19 pandemic are no longer news. The year 2020 has left an indelible mark in the heart and core of all humanity. The pandemic which started in the city of Wuhan, China hit the world like a fireball from space with no warning (or ignored warnings) in the late months of 2019. Economies and human-to-human interactions were put to an abrupt halt as countries and allies rallied around to combat the virus.
Since the outbreak and global spread of the SARS-CoV-2 in the late months of 2019, the pandemic has resulted in over 189 million cases worldwide with more than 4 million deaths. Aside from the death toll and disabilities credited to infection with this virus, international sovereignties have suffered significant economic collapse, disruption of educational institutions, and severe psychosocial damage to its populace. Thanks to improved medical practice and technology, the big guns in the pharmaceutical industries swung into motion to provide us with vaccines that should tip the scale of this war to our favor if certain prerequisites are fulfilled.
According to experts, vaccine-induced herd immunity is the most advocated model for mitigating this horrific nightmare of a pandemic and guide the world towards recovery. However, this popular opinion, to a large extent, seems to not be addressing the pandemic as efficiently as previously anticipated as countries keep recording increasing infection rates with newer variants of the virus. This immediately begs the question of if vaccination against the virus was a step in the right direction.
Worthy of applause in the fight against the pandemic was the speed with which the production of vaccines proceeded. As of December 2020, several candidate vaccines had passed the first and second phase trials to confirm their safety and immunogenicity while several others had completed phase 3 of the trials to determine the efficacy of the vaccines to offer protection to individuals against the virus. Although these 3 phases culminating in vaccine production are required to confirm the ability of these vaccines to prevent disease safely among the community, it is of paramount importance that longer-term, and population-level consequences of vaccine usage should be put into consideration. These negative consequences include vaccine escape and the evolution of increased virulence. Vaccine escape results in a loss of efficacy of the vaccine in combating the disease for which it was developed while the evolution of virulence, a more serious consequence, refers to changes that occur to the causal organism of the disease state that results in a more severe health outcome and higher infection fatality ratio (a ratio that assesses the fraction of infected persons that die from the disease or complications of the disease).
Since the development of these vaccines, several countries have made purchases and have initiated the vaccination of their populace in a bid to achieve herd immunity (an indirect form of protection to a disease state that is offered by the vaccination or development of natural immunity of a greater proportion of the population). The downsides to this are;
- A lot of countries, especially the low resource ones that are concentrated in Africa and Asia, can’t afford to make purchases that will be enough to vaccinate a significant proportion of their people to be able to achieve herd immunity.
- Among the vaccinated persons, there have been cases of reinfection begging the question of the actual efficacy of these vaccines. The World Health Organization’s estimate of the efficacy of the Sinopharm Vaccine was at just above 78% for adults who are below the age of 60. Very little data is available for those aged 60 and above. The UAE has put out a word to those who received the Sinopharm vaccine to come for third doses, with their reasons being low immune responses. US trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine showed it has an efficacy of 79% only. Countries in Africa like Nigeria who used the AstraZeneca vaccine will have possibly utilized a vaccine with lower efficacy compared to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines whose efficacy rates were found to be around 95%. These recent spikes in the infection rate of many countries also confirm the possibility of reduced efficacy.
Is the world dueling nature?
Nature has always had a way of balancing itself. This was vividly captured by the Malthusian theory of population postulated by Thomas Malthus in the 18th century. When food gets scarce, it resorts to eat or be eaten. When the population gets explosive, diseases and natural disasters thin out the herd. This also agrees with the theory of Charles Darwin on evolution who stated that only the fittest survive. According to him, for man to have evolved, lesser predecessors who could not adapt to environmental changes had to die. This is the law of nature!
So, what if the coronavirus was meant to thin out the world’s population by a particular proportion – say 1%? With the use of handwashing, social distancing, and the use of facemasks the world would’ve in no distant time developed immunity to this virus with little to no risk of increasing virulence. This fight against COVID-19 has gone on for a considerable length of time and here is the current statement of facts:
- New strains of the virus keep emerging in different populations
- The world isn’t exactly winning with the vaccines at least not with the current slow implementation.
- The risks of vaccine-induced evolution of virulence are high. The delta variant of the coronavirus isolated in different populations has been posited to have a higher infection rate as well as more severity in symptoms.
So, was vaccination a wise decision. Would it not be likened to setting a house on fire in a bid to kill a rat if vaccination ends up causing the virus to mutate into a more virulent strain that will take out a greater proportion of the world’s population? Several factors could drive this evolution and they include:
- Inability to vaccinate enough percentage of the population to achieve herd immunity: this is already a problem as it is common knowledge that several countries do not have the resources to conduct large-scale vaccination programs. This will have a resultant effect of causing or giving the virus the chance to mutate in a bid to survive. So, vaccinating only countries with the resource to achieve herd immunity does not erase the virus from existence. If the virus is somewhere (in this case, the poor resource countries) it is everywhere as human beings are continually migrating across borders. Suffice it to say that these vaccinations will simply amount to kicking the can down the line; prolonging the inevitable and possibly worsening the outcome.
- Reduced efficacy of these vaccines: the effects of this are particularly felt in Seychelles, one of the world’s most vaccinated countries against COVID-19, which started having increasing spikes in the infection rate of its populace some months ago. Seychelles used the AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines on its populace before the spikes.
Why take the risk of vaccination?
A very common theory in vaccine deployment is of the stance that immunity which reduces disease but not the transmission or reduces the disease to a greater extent than transmission can drive virulence evolution. This is of particular importance in the case of the coronavirus vaccine that might reduce the morbidity that comes with it but not necessarily the transmissibility.
So, if the world knows this, why is it still advocating vaccine usage as the most acceptable means of achieving herd immunity? The answer is not farfetched – Money and power.
While the media talk about vaccines being the savior of mankind, one thing you will rarely hear is that the production and marketing of these vaccines are lining the pockets of big pharmaceutical companies with gold. Money is the driving force of all of mankind’s intents and this case is no different.
Nature has ways of correcting itself. These range from famine and diseases to natural disasters. When man tries to outsmart nature in a not-so-smart manner, the results are usually of a catastrophic magnitude. The introduction and usage of the coronavirus vaccine in the fight against the pandemic can still save the day but only if the aim is to vaccinate most of the world population quickly and without regard to whether they come from a rich country or a poor one. If the virus is in Timbuktu it is everywhere.
*Disclaimer: The points of view in this article are those of the author and not of Gilmore Health!