- The available vaccines are really effective against COVID-19: WHO
- Vaccines can help in reducing the likelihood of transmission of virus: WHO
- Even if you are vaccinated it is important to keep wearing a mask: WHO
New Delhi: The COVID-19 vaccine drive is underway in the country and from April 1, all persons above the age of 45 will be able to get themselves immunized against the novel coronavirus that has caused the ongoing pandemic. Currently, all people above the age of 60 and those above 45 with comorbidities are being vaccinated, apart from medical professionals and frontline workers. Even though the country has been on its vaccination journey for about 2.5 months, there are still some misinformation and doubts regarding vaccines against COVID-19. As part of WHO’s conversations in science series, Dr Katherine O’Brien, Epidemiologist and Vaccinologist, answers some of the frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccines.
Can vaccination prevent infection, and can a person get COVID-19 or spread the infection to others after getting vaccinated?
Dr Katherine O’Brien: What we know about the vaccines is that these are really effective against the disease. The vaccines are really effective at protecting us from getting a severe case of COVID-19 and hospitalization. The second question we have, though, is do they prevent infection. Of the early evidence that we have, it does look like these vaccines are not only protective against getting symptoms, actually developing disease, but they do seem to also prevent getting infected in your upper respiratory tract. It looks like they might, even if you do get infected, also reduce for how long you are infected. And it also looks in very early data that when you are infected in your respiratory tract, you might have less of the virus in your respiratory tract than if you are not vaccinated. And each of those things would reduce the likelihood that you would transmit that virus to someone else. So, these are really interesting results that are starting to come out.
But I really want to emphasize how early they are. This means that we only have one or two studies. We also don’t have these results for each of the vaccines that are now out there. And as everybody knows, there are a number of vaccines that are being used around the world. So this is the reason why we keep emphasizing that as vaccines are rolling out, as we are in this early phase of the use of vaccines, people need to continue to wear masks and continue the other interventions that are keeping us safe and reducing transmission.
Do vaccines protect people against coronavirus variants? And also, does it mean that a new variant would have a low impact on people?
Dr Katherine O’Brien: From what we do know about the vaccines that are broadly used around the world is that for most of the variants, the vaccines continue to be effective. These vaccines may not be as effective as these are against the non-variants, but nevertheless, these still have substantial effectiveness against disease.
About other variants that are coming up, we should expect that we are going to continue to see variants pop up and emerge. It is what viruses do. And the vaccine manufacturers are clearly going to and are already adapting vaccines to try to make them as best they can be against a range of variants as we learn more about how those variants are interacting with the vaccines. The most important thing is, this is one of the really big reasons why even if you are vaccinated it is important to keep wearing a mask.
We don’t have the evidence for each of the vaccines, for each of the variants, nor for variants that will come up in the future or about the degree to which the vaccines are protective against people getting infected. They may protect you against getting sick, but you could then go on and transmit to somebody else and they could get sick if they are not vaccinated.
Do people who have already had the infection also need both doses of the COVID-19 vaccines?
Dr Katherine O’Brien: We still recommend that if you have had COVID-19, you should get a full course of the vaccines that are out there and available to you. So, if it is a vaccine that requires two doses, you should get the two doses. We certainly have seen evidence that a single dose of vaccine, especially in people who have had COVID-19 in the past, gives a really strong antibody response. And that is really good news. It shows that the vaccine is boosting the immunity that has developed as a result of the illness that they had.
But the reason that we recommend that you go ahead and get the full course of the vaccine is twofold. First of all, we do not have the evidence yet about whether or not a single dose following disease would be fully protective or equally protective against the variants that are now out there. And we also do not know about the duration of protection. So, without evidence to really assure people that a single dose of a vaccine would normally be given in two doses is going to give you optimum of protection, we are recommending still that you go ahead and get both doses of vaccine.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.