The facts are simple. The world is in the grip of one of the most terrible pandemics in history. For almost 2 years, South Africa has been affected by COVID-19, resulting in lockdowns, deaths, economic troubles and general disruptions to our lives. We all yearn for the day when we can get back to normal, but until we beat COVID-19 that day remains a distant dream. So how do we beat this virus? It’s really quite simple, we vaccinate.
There is a great deal of misinformation being spread about COVID-19 and the various mRNA vaccines available in the country. As healthcare professionals, it is our responsibility to inform ourselves on these subjects in order to share correct information with our communities and patients.
The simple fact is, receiving a vaccine against COVID-19 does reduce your risk of infection in the future. There is currently no way to ensure you never fall victim to the virus, but being vaccinated will reduce your risk. Think of it this way, the current pandemic is like living in a dangerous community where break-ins are commonplace. You, a responsible homeowner, have a choice, you can install security measures such as burglar bars and alarm systems, or you can leave yourself wide open to criminals. Naturally, you choose to secure your home against unwanted visitors. These security measures do not ensure 100% safety, but they definitely make it harder for criminals to target you. The vaccine is our security system against the criminal that is COVID-19.
Let’s take this analogy one step further. You may not be at home when the break-in occurs, but perhaps your elderly parents are living with you and they are at home. How would you feel if they were victims of a criminal intrusion and you could have done something to stop this from happening? You had a chance to install the alarm system and to sign up for armed response, but you chose not to, and now your home and your family have been violated. The guilt would be unbearable, wouldn’t it? Well, the same thing goes for getting vaccinated against COVID-19. You may think that you are still young and healthy, so why should you get vaccinated? The answer is, it’s not just about you. It’s about your family, your friends, your community. By not getting vaccinated when you are able to, you are leaving those who cannot get vaccinated (for various reasons) at a higher risk of infection.
Perhaps you are wary of getting the vaccine because you have heard of people still contracting COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated. Well, as mentioned earlier, the vaccine is not 100% foolproof. However, please keep in mind that you are less likely to suffer severe symptoms, land up in hospital and on a ventilator, and even die from the virus if you have been vaccinated. While several studies pointed to strong infection-induced immunity in people who were previously infected with SARS-Cov-2 (see Townsend et al., 2021; Shrestha et al., 2021; Gazit et al., 2021), the durability and longevity of such immunity are still being studied. Furthermore, some studies indicate that reinfection is possible among the previously-infected unvaccinated (see Cavanaugh et al., 2021; Sheehan et al., 2021). The arrival of the Omicron variant is also reported to present an increased risk of reinfections in South Africa (see Pulliam et al., 2021).
The South African National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) says “people who have recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection are usually protected from being infected a second time (called re-infection). This is because they develop neutralising antibodies that remain in their blood for at least 5-6 months, maybe longer,” but advises that given that SARS-Cov-2 mutates and that the mutated variants have been shown to become resistant to antibody neutralisation, even previously infected persons should strongly consider vaccination to avoid possible reinfection.
We have all heard of the concept “herd immunity”, and although it may make us think of cattle and feel like just a number amongst the crowd, it is a term that has a purpose. Only by achieving herd immunity, by vaccinating enough members of the global population, can we even begin to dream of returning to normal.
Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the way things were in 2019? Wouldn’t it be great to see family and friends, to take part in large events like concerts and sporting events? Wouldn’t we all breathe a little easier without the mask on our faces? Let’s all get vaccinated if we can, and let’s beat this virus once and for all.
- National Institute of Communicable Diseases. 2021. Frequently Asked Questions
New Variant of SARS-CoV-2 in South Africa. Available online: https://www.nicd.ac.za/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/New-Variant-of-SARS-CoV-2_Frequently-Asked-Questions_v10_18-January-2021.pdf
- Cavanaugh, A; Spicer, KB; Thoroughman, D; Glick, C & Winter, K. 2021. Reduced Risk of Reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 After COVID-19 Vaccination – Kentucky, May-June 2021, in: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Centers for Disease Control. Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7032e1.htm
- Townsend, JP; Hassler, HB; Wang, Z; Miura, S; Singh, J; Kumar, S; Ruddle, NH; Galvani, AP & Dornburg; A. 2021. The durability of immunity against reinfection by
SARS-CoV-2: a comparative evolutionary study, in: The Lancet Microbe. Available online: https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S2666-5247%2821%2900219-6
- Sheehan, MM; Reddy, AJ & Rothberg, MB. 2021. Reinfection Rates Among Patients Who Previously Tested Positive for Coronavirus Disease 2019: A Retrospective Cohort Study, in: Clinical Infectious Diseases. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciab234.
Shrestha, NK; Burke, PC; Nowacki, AS; Terpeluk, P & Gordon, SM. 2021. Necessity of COVID-19 vaccination in previously infected individuals. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.06.01.21258176
- Gazit, S; Shlezinger, R; Perez, G; Lotan, R; Peretz, A; Ben-Tov, A; Cohen, D; Muhsen, K; Chodick, G; Patalon, T. 2021. Comparing SARS-CoV-2 natural immunity to vaccine-induced immunity: reinfections versus breakthrough infections. Available online: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.08.24.21262415
- Pulliam, J; Van Schalkwyk, C; Govender, N; Von Gottberg, A; Cohen, C; Groome, MJ; Dushoff, J; Mlisana, K & Moultrie, H. 2021. Increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 reinfection associated with the emergence of the Omicron variant in South Africa. Available online: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.11.11.21266068v2