26 May 2022

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Vaccines – just how good are they really? We are getting mixed messages now
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Vaccines – just how good are they really? We are getting mixed messages now

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We cannot do without them but we need to keep taking the tablets!

There is every chance that public confidence is going to be shaken by the latest revelations that our excellent vaccines may have a tendency to “wear off”.

What we have been told is that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines provide an excellent and robust protection against covid-19 and are also effective against the variants, so far at least. It has always been in the background that boosters or even annual top ups might be necessary but of course thus far we did not know so much about them.

However a week or so ago we reported on one expert who thought that it would be better to give first jabs to foreigners rather than third jabs to ourselves and “hope that we would get through the winter”. The latter statement was made as a bit of a throw-away line but it was said nevertheless. It was enough to raise the question as to just how effective are these vaccines long term.

Today it has been reported that researchers say they are seeing some waning of the protection afforded by the vaccines with Pfizer decreasing from 88% after two shots to 74% at five to six months and AstraZeneca reducing from 77% to 67% at four to five months.

How should we be reacting to this? The answer is that it was always expected that there would be some reduction in protection but it has not previously been quantified like it has now. It is pointed out by Public Health England that the vaccinations have probably saved 84600 deaths and 23 million infections so clearly there are no grounds to say that the vaccinations are a waste of time – clearly they have done a fantastic job so far. But as always we need to be vigilant. One professor thinks protection could have dropped to 50% by the winter. What appears to be significant about that is the speed with which efficacy is dropping.

Evidently annual jabs or boosters are going to be essential if these figures are correct, otherwise all we shall have done is to defer the evil day. Getting on top of this virus is really important and we dare not stop the fight to keep transmission down to a minimum.

It is looking like third jabs will start to be given to high risk people again in the autumn – once more around the mulberry bush. However it has been pointed out that not everyone will need one. It is suggested that people who have had covid as well as their two jabs have already effectively had three jabs! But perhaps there will be a more scientific way of determining who should get the booster. What about taking a blood sample and assessing the antibody protection for individuals and making a decision whether to vaccinate again based on a standard level of protection to be determined? Freeing up excess vaccine doses has got to be a good thing when there are parts of the world where vaccination has scarcely started.

So really the new buzz is about how long these vaccines will remain effective, how they are to be assessed in terms of giving people boosters and whether more serious disease is going to ensue without them.

With today’s new cases over seven days running at 236796 and deaths at 743 it is clear we still have a long way to go to win this battle. Jabbing school children may be a very good way of keeping transmission down when term starts again next week but at the moment the figures seem to be marching slowly but ominously upwards. A change in direction would bring relief to a lot of people.

Adrian Leopard 25-08-21

Photo Parang Mehta

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