By Professor Dinesh Bhugra
A WEEK before Christmas, I was at an Indian greengrocers shopping for fruit and vegetables.
The cashier, whom I have known for many years, asked me: “Doctor, will you take the injection (vaccination) when it comes?”
I was surprised at the question as I could not imagine not having it. Having told him that I definitely would, I asked him the reasons why he was sceptical of the vaccine. He responded saying there were discussions going on his WhatsApp group that normally it took up to 10 years to develop a vaccine and this had been done in less than a year.
Second, the substances in which the active compound is dissolved are likely to have side effects.
Another reason was that the injection may damage Asians more than the white folk.
I tried to explain my rationale to him and by this time a group of interested folk had gathered around the checkout and an impromptu “seminar” started.
The history of vaccinations is long, but also controversial. Edward Jenner saw that those milkmaids who had caught cow pox did not develop smallpox and he developed the vaccinations which, in due course, led to the elimination of small pox from populations around the world.
Measles can be a dangerous illness as can polio, and both have been brought under significant control globally, so why do people still feel that vaccinations are bad?
The question that the Covid-19 vaccine has been developed in less than a year and corners have been cut can be answered in a number of ways.
In the first quarter of the 21st century, knowledge about the human body and its responses, about viruses and public health has been gathered in a truly impressive manner.
Our cumulative knowledge about coronaviruses has been increasing exponentially. Scientists have known about the biology of the viruses for some time. Within six months of the outbreak, by May 2020, worldwide there were more than 100 vaccines in development. Various approaches were being used. This is also because the virus is being studied and attacked from multiple directions.
The vaccines which have received approval from multiple agencies in different countries (all with stringent approval criteria) would not have got it if there were any shortcuts. Lots of steps have been taken in parallel, rather than consequentially. The human body responds to infections by developing antibodies – all those who had recovered showed such a development and scientists collectively studied these.
Furthermore, experiences with other viruses meant that structures and gene maps of viruses are known and well recognised, so developing vaccines has been quicker. No corners have been cut.
The speed also results from cumulative knowledge gathered over decades. Altruism of human volunteers has helped enormously.
All medications have some side effects – prior to being given a vaccine, every individual will be asked about allergic reactions to a list of substances that form part of the vaccine.
There are cultural differences in the metabolism of various compounds and medications, but the trials of vaccines have been carried out in India, Brazil, South Africa and a number of other countries.
There are different types of vaccinations which work in slightly different ways. It is crucial that in order to develop community immunity, around 70 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated. Therefore, this is both a personal responsibility as well as a responsibility towards others.
Vaccination is not only about keeping oneself safe, but also others by protecting one’s family, community and then society at large. We have eliminated small pox and controlled many other viral diseases. The time is right to control the SARS-2 (Covid-19) virus too.