MBALE – On 10 March 2021-Uganda joined the rest of the world to launch the COVID-19 Vaccination Campaign at Mulago Women and Neonatal Hospital in Kampala.
The launch saw over 300 individuals vaccinated against COVID-19 using the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
According to the ministry of Health, the priority target groups for Covid 19 phase one are 150,000 health workers, 250,000 security personnel, 500,000 persons with underlying health conditions aged below 50, among others.
This came barely a month after the Ministry of Health warned Ugandans to prepare for the second wave of Covid-19 infections since the country had already hit its peak of infections and other countries had entered the second strain of Covid 19.
This brings the question; what is Ugandan vaccinating against; the first strain of Covid 19 or the second strain that is now tormenting many countries across the world?
Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, the executive director of Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) said initially there were viruses that were imported from different parts of the world which were falling into different groups such as B, A but that recently there has been an increase of one of the groups called A23.
“It’s increasing and what we see in this virus is that it has mutations, including mutations in the spike region, about five mutations, but we have not yet seen the most worrying mutations in our viruses,” Prof Kaleebu said while updating the country on the status of Coronavirus in the country.
He revealed that the A23 strain was first seen in some infected people in northern Uganda but that this strain has also been reported in other countries in Europe, the USA as well as Rwanda which according to UVRI, the source of A23 strain is not clear, but it was first reported in Uganda.
The results available have pointed scientists to the need to continue with surveillance and checking the virus strains in the country and to make sure the strains respond to the vaccines that are going to be introduced.
Yes, the vaccinations started in Uganda but we don’t know whether the ministry of health is vaccinating Ugandans against the new strains of the virus or the first strain that rocked the country in 2020.
And the question here is that are Ugandans going to be safe after getting the vaccination from all Covid 19 new strains sweeping across the world?
The truth be told that more people are likely to fall sick, and health professionals should follow up on this, some laboratory work be done and we should also look into the hospitals to find out what dominant strain is there.
Actually WHO advises manufacturers and the programs using the vaccines to adjust to the evolution of the COVID-19 virus: for example, vaccines may need to incorporate more than one strain when in development, booster shots maybe required, and that other vaccine changes may be needed.
WHO adds that trials should also be designed and maintained to allow any changes in efficacy to be assessed, and must be of sufficient scale and diversity to enable clear interpretation of results.
And on constant alert, every time our medical teams need to carry out studies in Covid trends, to work out which strains are emerging and should be included in the next Covid 19 vaccine but should also continually monitor potential signals of pandemic threat.
WHO says a few people who have had COVID-19, usually get the second, often milder case of the disease, and advises that medical workers /researchers should keep exploring what this means in terms of how long immunity from the Coronavirus lasts.
As Ugandans receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the government should ensure the vaccines undergo the most intensive safety monitoring that includes using both established and new safety monitoring systems to make sure that COVID-19 vaccines are safe.
Whereas medical experts are still learning about how vaccines affect the spread of COVID-19, Centre for Disease Control [CDC]l recommends taking precautions while in public — including wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.
It is also clear that Scientists are also studying the effectiveness of the vaccines against new, more contagious strains of the Coronavirus, this means our ministry of health should also explain to people that they ought to wear a mask and keep distance even after getting the vaccine, keep away from crowds etc for safety reasons.
It is also true that there is a lot of misinformation about the vaccines so the importance of translating words into action and the need to counter misinformation and cynicism, while expressing pleasure at the new level of multilateralism and consensus seen in today’s debate.
Ugandans also ought to know that it typically takes two weeks after vaccination for the body to build protection (immunity) against the virus that causes COVID-19, this means it is possible a person could still get COVID-19 before or just after vaccination and then get sick because the vaccine did not have enough time to provide protection.
Vaccination is a global health and development success story, saving millions of lives every year because it reduces risks of getting a disease by working with your body’s natural defenses to build protection and when you get a vaccine, your immune system responds.
We now have vaccines to prevent Covid 19, a life-threatening disease to help people of all ages live longer, healthier lives.
Vaccines are also critical to the prevention and control of infectious-disease outbreaks they underpin global health security and will be a vital tool in the battle against antimicrobial resistance.
But I would also like to recommend medical personnel that they ought to explain to the patients well about the safety, effectiveness, benefits and risks of the Coronavirus vaccine and then tell Ugandans what they are vaccinating them against; the first strain of Covid 19 or the second strain?
David Mafabi is a veteran journalist and PML Daily senior writer