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Death toll ... Covid-19 testing at a laboratory in Harare

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Africa CDC urges greater scrutiny on vaccines

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THE Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sharpened its scrutiny of countries such as Zimbabwe that are administering Chinese vaccines following reports of lower efficacy rates and side effects associated with some innoculations, a leading immunologist has said.

BERNARD MPOFU

Zimbabwe was among the first countries in the region to take delivery of Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines (both manufactured in China) in early as part of the southern African country’s measures to reduce the severity of the respiratory disease which has claimed millions across the globe.

Tinashe Gede, an Oxford University-trained immunologist, said countries administering the Chinese vaccines had weak surveillance systems, a realisation which promoted the CDC to move in. Less than 5% of Africa’s population has been vaccinated against Covid-19.

“What’s not clear is with vaccines like Sinopharm and Coronavac, will there be concerns with clotting? What’s true is no one has reported any clots with the Chinese vaccines. But it is also true that the Chinese vaccines have been used in countries whose surveillance programmes are not the most robust. So if you see something happening, one in a million cases and it happens in a country like Zimbabwe, chances are that you won’t see it because there just isn’t an effective routine monitoring system,” Gede said.

“So the Africa Centres for Disease Control has begun an active surveillance programme, essentially saying if anybody complains of headache or confusion we probably have to do scans and see if there is clotting. But as far as we know, the mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccines have no reported link with clots, the inactivated vaccines have no link with clots. The viral vector vaccines both do. There is a third kind of viral vector vaccine which the Russians made which is exactly the same as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they haven’t reported clots. Whether it’s because they haven’t noticed that they are happening or there is something genetically different about the Russian population, it is somewhat unclear.”

According to the Africa CDC, the MRNA vaccines teach our cells how to make a protein — or even just a piece of a protein —that triggers an immune response inside our bodies.

To trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. Not mRNA vaccines. Instead, they teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.

Covid-19 mRNA vaccines give instructions for our cells to make a harmless piece of what is called the “spike protein.” The spike protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes Covid-19.

Gede also warned that a recent study carried out in Africa had shown that most people have low antibodies required to fight the pandemic.

“Africa has a big demographic advantage. If you study the risk of severe infections, probably the most important driver for adverse outcomes is age,” Gede said.

“Although we have noticed that compliance with public health measures throughout sub-Saharan Africa has not been any higher than other parts of the world, the rate of infection transmission appears lower. I think what is really happening is that there is a lot of asymptomatic transmission going on and in younger people it doesn’t make them sick enough.

“What is certainly true is that all the healthcare providers in sub-Saharan Africa are worried about the possibility of a third wave.

“The fear is grounded in fundamental scientific data that our immunity rate at a population level are very low.

“So we did a study called the seroprevalence study, where we would just measure and say how many people have Covid antibodies. It is still less than 1%. So to all intents and purposes, everybody is still significantly vulnerable to Covid-19.” 

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