Covid-19 Vaccines Facts and Myths, Kenyan Experience

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By HENRY OWINO

There are high hopes COVID-19 Vaccines will help end the pandemic. However, there have been claims about these vaccines that have received mixed reactions from all quarters some advocating for while others criticizing the vaccines.

Prof Walter Jaoko, Director KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research, speaking during a press briefing by Africa Science Media Center, shed light on the facts and myths around Covid-19 vaccines. Prof Jaoko argued that some of the myths surrounding the Covid-19 vaccines are based in the manner in which the vaccines were hurriedly developed and approved raising concerns on safety and efficacy.

He said all Covid-19 vaccines being used in the world currently have been tested for safety at various stages from pre-clinical trials to clinical trials. In human beings, the vaccines have gone through 3 phases – phase one focusing on safety; phase two focusing on whether they stimulate responses that can help the body to fight the virus causing Covid-19; and phase three showing that the vaccine works in either preventing people from getting Covid-19, or causing it.

Prof Walter Jaoko, Director, KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research, addressing journalists on vaccines facts and myths.

Prof Jaoko explained that the technology being used was not from a scratch but enhanced from previous existing vaccines for past viral disease outbreaks to develop the current ones. “Governments also put more money to help quicken the research and development of the vaccines as pandemic was worldwide concern,” he added

Covid vaccine cannot cause Covid as claimed on social media. The materials used to make the vaccines are made from plasmid and viral vector vaccine and there is no way they can cause Covid.

“It is important note that vaccines are different from medicines. When one takes medicine, it is the medicine itself that fights the disease-causing   germ. It is therefore required that it remains in the body for a long time so as to keep fighting the germ. Vaccines on the other hand do not fight the germ but instead they stimulate the body to produce either antibodies or special white blood cells that fight the germs when the body comes into contact with it,” the KAVI Director explained.

All medicines and vaccines have side effects, he clarified, adding that what was important before a drug or vaccine was registered for use was to ensure that the side effects must be tolerable and not serious. The Covid-19 vaccines being used now have been shown to be safe when they were tested in thousands of people who participated in the trials, he affirmed. However, he clarified that since the vaccines are now being given to millions of people, Scientists do not know if there will be new side effects that were not seen during the trials.

“So far the side effects being experienced were same as in the trials. They include pain and swelling at the vaccination site, feeling tired, fever, muscle ache, headache and nausea not very severe as alleged. These can last a few days and mostly disappear on their own without requiring any treatment,” Director of KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research affirmed.

Concerning the blood clots, Prof Jaoko disclosed that only two vaccines have been associated with them: AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. However, he said that there were still no clear nexus between these vaccines and the blood clot adding that more investigations were needed ascertain the connection. The possibility blood clots being related to vaccines are very minimal but there are several studies going on to establish if there was any association. People should also weigh between benefits and the risks involved in the vaccines.

In Kenya, there is a number or an App where vaccinated people can give information on reactions, side effects and how they are feeling. So, it is possible to generate information and the database helps in identifying and evaluating unreported adverse reactions.

At KAVI- Institute of Clinical Research, Prof Jaoko said they are involved in pharmacovigilance where the institution follows -up people who have been vaccinated to see how long the immunity lasts. So, for physicians who have been vaccinated, keeps on collecting blood to see whether the immunity responses which have been generated by the vaccines lasts or how long it would last.

About claims that people allergic to certain foods, especially to proteins like eggs should not get vaccinated is not true. The severe allergy Scientists are concern about is a very severe allergy known as Anaphylaxis. Even when one is vaccinated in a health facility, he/she is observed for 15-30 minutes for any severe reactions to be addressed before they are released, because reactions happen almost immediately.

The myth that the vaccines cause infertility is not true because all the studies done in animals did not show any vaccines affecting reproductive organs of both male and female animals.

He clarified that vaccination does not prevent one from getting Covid-19 as most people think it does. “What has been shown is that vaccines prevent people from getting severe disease that leads to hospitalization and needing oxygen, prevents people from requiring ICU treatment, and therefore prevents death.”

There are vaccines that are given once and some that are given twice at an interval of 21 days and some at an interval of 28 days. This is based on findings of what worked during the clinical trials. The best dose, the best route and best frequency of vaccination is determined during phase 2 clinical trials, he disclosed.

For AstraZeneca vaccine commonly used in Africa, the intervals between the first and the second doses vary between 6 weeks to 12 weeks. The prolonged intervals allows for effectiveness of the vaccine to build strong immunity to body.

“Every adult should be vaccinated,” Prof Jaoko admitted. However because we do not have enough vaccines to go round, this have to be prioritized,” he explained.  Adding: “Priority groups include healthcare workers because of their increased risk of infection, those working in the uniformed forces, teachers, elderly people, those with other disease conditions (Comorbidities) that put them at the risk of getting severe Covid-19 disease, such as those with diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and kidney disease.”