Studies suggest that COVID-19 vaccines reducing new cases, deaths

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By Vishani Ragobeer

Minister of Health, Dr Frank Anthony, during his daily COVID-19 briefing on April 8, 2021, posited that vaccinations could prevent individuals from becoming hospitalised with the more severe symptoms of the disease, COVID-19.

He also posited that fully vaccinated persons, that is, persons who received both doses of their vaccines (for those vaccines given in two doses) could be saved from the fatal effects of COVID-19.

In Guyana, there is not much data to ascertain whether the vaccination rollout has contributed to a decrease in the number of new cases or deaths. As a matter of fact, weeks after the commencement of the vaccination rollout in Guyana from February 11, a rapid increase in infections has been recorded locally.

Aside from this third wave locally, there are other factors to consider. Over the past few weeks, there has been a string of holidays and observances, marked by an increase in social gatherings, despite the COVID-19 guidelines.

Additionally, the presence of mutated strains of the virus – commonly called variants – is concerning. Dr Anthony, in a prior update, noted that many variants are inconsequential but, from time to time, some mutations result in stronger, more harmful forms of the virus.  In this instance, the variants of concern for the novel coronavirus are the B.1.1.7 United Kingdom (UK) variant, the B.1.351 South Africa variant and the P1 Brazil variant.

According to Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus, Christine Carrington, there has been increased transmissibility recorded in the P1 Brazil variant and the B.1.1.7 United Kingdom variant; the B.1.351 South Africa variant and P1 have the ability to partially escape from protective immune responses produced by current COVID-19 vaccines.

A graph showing the decline in COVID-19 deaths in the United Kingdom (UK), as prepared by the Guardian

Still, buttressing the Health Minister’s statements that the COVID-19 vaccines help with the reduction of new cases and deaths, are studies from the UK and Israeli.

From January 23, 2021, to April 6, 2021, deaths from the coronavirus in the UK have fallen by 62 per cent in the over-80 population, according to the Guardian. Moreover, a decline of 47 per cent was recorded among people aged between 20 and 64, and the decline among those aged 65 to 79 was 51 per cent.

Chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, David Spiegelhalter, contended that the widespread vaccination campaign in that country has increased the steep decline of COVID-19 deaths there.

It is important to note, however, that the UK has been undergoing another lockdown which resulted in a marked decrease in social gatherings, thereby limiting the spread of the virus. Spiegelhalter, as reported by the Guardian, highlighted that the declines seen were so significant enough to have been influenced by the vaccination rollout and not just the rollout.

The BMJ, a weekly peer-reviewed British Medical Journal, quoted Spiegelhalter as saying: “We can’t definitively say that this is because of the vaccination programme but it is compatible with the start of an effect of vaccines.”

Aside from deaths, there is some nexus between the COVID-19 vaccines and hospitalisation. Again, in the UK, the BMJ reported that hospital admissions have been declining in all age groups, though it is presumed that this is linked to the country’s lockdown. An analyst from Loughborough University’s School of Business and Economics, Duncan Robertson, told the BMJ that the decline in hospital admissions may be “the first tentative sign” of the effects of vaccination. He, however, emphasised that more data is needed before this trend can be confirmed.

In Israel, there are promising results too, following the vaccination of segments of the population with the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine. According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), published on March 5, 2021, there has been preliminary evidence illustrating the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing the severe cases of COVID-19 at the national level in Israel. These severe cases are those cases whereby the patients required mechanical ventilation.

The efficacy of the vaccines is determined by how well the vaccine performs in controlled, clinical settings. The effectiveness of the vaccines, however, is determined by how well they work in uncontrolled, real-world settings- like in vaccinated populations. And, the Israeli data also gives some insight into how effective a vaccine is.

Like the UK, however, it is to be noted that Israel also instituted a stay-at-home order just after the vaccination campaign. Meanwhile, the researchers also noted that the introduction of variants of the novel coronavirus could have affected the virus.

To a large extent, however, vaccination rollouts are still burgeoning and according to the BMJ, experts agree that though the signs are encouraging, more data is still needed. And, as Dr. Anthony emphasised, “The protective effects of these vaccines far outweigh the side-effects.”

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