Mon | May 16, 2022

Garth Rattray | My argument no done yet

Published:Monday | January 17, 2022 | 12:08 AM

When asked about the possibility of returning to lockdowns to control the current COVID-19 wave, the prime minister responded by reminding us that he has repeatedly made it clear that there will be no return to lockdowns, and that the [Government’s] strategy for managing this pandemic surge is for people to get vaccinated. He ended his response by telling everyone, “Go and get vaccinated! Argument done!”

Although I can full well empathise with the prime minister’s frustration, I find several problems with what he said regarding the management strategy for controlling this wave of COVID-19. If someone is unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, getting a dose of vaccine for the current wave may not be effective in time for this spike. It takes several weeks for our immune response to ramp up, and it takes two doses for it to get to (what is considered to be) an effective level. Boosters are needed because the immune response wanes rather quickly. So, getting a booster now may also not protect you in time.

A vaccine shot taken now will offer protection for the upcoming months and, if the dosing schedule of vaccination and boosting is followed, it will offer protection if another wave comes in a few months from now. I freely admit that the vaccines disappointed me because they are not that good at preventing transmission to and from anybody. I have several patients who, although fully vaccinated, got COVID-19 anyway. However, it is thought that vaccines reduce transmission, shorten the time that the virus remains active within us, and is good at preventing hospitalisation, serious illness and/or death from COVID-19 complications. As usual, there will be exceptions.

Many people are afraid of the vaccines. They say that they were hurriedly developed, that they will cause strange changes to our DNA, that they will cause dangerous side effects, and that they are only being pushed by Big Pharma to satisfy their greed. Big Pharma is certainly greedy, but the vaccines have many benefits. They are not as newly developed as many people think. They have been in the pipeline since the first SARS outbreak circa 2002. Their technology is novel, but it does not enter or interfere with the cell nucleus, so our DNA will remain unaffected.

Consider this: many of the other well-known vaccines have been administrated for decades, and over several generations. The COVID-19 vaccines have only been administered for a little over one year and, in that very short time, over 9.6 billion doses have been given. Therefore, if any side effects pop up, the impression will be magnified because of the extremely large number of doses already given. In other words, if the COVID-19 vaccines were spread out over decades and generations, the side effects would manifest very few and very far between; so few and far between that they would be seen as negligible. In fact, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications have more side effects than the COVID-19 vaccines.

Furthermore, as with other vaccines, some fully vaccinated individuals do not mount an immune response robust enough to combat the invading virus. These people are totally unaware of their vulnerable status. If infected, they are as unprotected as someone who was never vaccinated.

The prime minister’s curt declaration that “Argument done!” concerned me immensely, because it proposes that only vaccines can solve our COVID-19 problems. Whereas I believe in, encourage and advocate vaccination as a means of reducing the virus’ transmission and, much more so, as a means of reducing your risk of becoming very ill from COVID-19, there are several other essential layers of protection that we must undertake if we are going to get this plague under control.

Non-pharmaceutical strategies are extremely important; they require sustained discipline and consideration for others – things that many people are unwilling to undertake. There can be no shortcuts if we are to beat this thing. Wearing effective and properly fitting masks are essential. Cloth masks have proven less than ideal in stopping the very transmissible Omicron variant. In any event, after four washings, cloth masks lose 75 per cent of their efficacy. Doubling up is a good idea. Better yet, use a combination of a cloth mask and a surgical mask for increased protection. Doubling up on the surgical mask is great, but an N95 (or similar) mask is excellent. I use an N95 mask along with a surgical mask to reduce my risk of infection.

Distancing from others (masked or not) is very important. We know that the virus is expelled from infected people while attached to exhaled particles of various sizes. They are expelled while attached to particles propelled by breathing, sneezing, coughing, regular speech, loud speech, shouting, singing, and even laughing. The range of these particles depends on their size and on the environment. They will go farther indoors when there is no air movement to waft them away. The wisdom of sanitising speaks for itself.

Shockingly, most people are not exercising any caution. And when they don’t hear, we all feel – as we are doing now. Vaccination is one layer of a necessary multilayered approach to defeating COVID-19. The argument can’t done until we invest major time and effort into convincing and assisting our citizens to adhere to the safety protocol.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.