THERE are many heroes in medicine who changed the world in numerous ways and one such example is the late American microbiologist, Mauricce Hilleman, a great man who single-handedly made a flu vaccine in 1957 in just 4 months thus bringing the Asian flu of 1957/58 to an abrupt halt.
The world went into jubilation as the avain flu, H2N2 was stopped. Today, the world is in tears again because of the stubborn COVID-19 virus, which continues to ravage the world with at least 4,34 million people succumbing to it since its outbreak in China’s Wuhan province in 2019. Africa has lost at least 185 000 people, but that number is far from the truth as many countries do not report their statistics to the World Health Organisation.
It is absurd that some countries claim to record zero cases and zero deaths from COVID-19 yet their neighbours are overwhelmed and depredated to the bone. Nations should report their cases for strategic planning purposes.
Zimbabwe has done well in terms of COVID-19 management and control with public health measures and restrictions working to mitigate against the heinous virus.
So far at least 8,3% of those eligible has been vaccinated in our country, a figure that is promising given that we are on eighth position in Africa in terms of vaccination status.
Seychelles, Comoros, Tunisia, Carpe Verde have all done better than us in terms of vaccination. Public gatherings have been cited as fuelling transmissions so the banning of weddings, church gatherings, soccer matches, massive funerals has helped in the containment of the virus.
While we appreciate all the previously-introduced public health measures, I think it is wiser to give serious relevance to what is the new norm — vaccination.
There is wasted energy and unnecessary debate about vaccines and the misinformation surrounding the vaccines is detrimental to the successful implementation of the vaccination programme.
Everyone has now become a specialist in medicine but the superficial thinking exhibited by some conspiracy theorists is nauseating. Everyone knows that Africa is a poor continent with poor health infrastructure, demotivated health workforce, which endure a poor working environment.
However, mortality and morbidity have not been as high as in the developed world that boasts advanced clinical technology, state-of-the-art equipment including sophisticated ventilation, drugs and renowned doctors and researchers.
We need vaccines in our country and we applaud our government for involving private practitioners in their administration.
It seems the COVID-19 virus will be with us for some time. We are already at the end of the third wave but we are facing a fourth wave before the end of the year with the possibility of more serious attacks ahead.
The reality is that the rate of mutation is too much as United Kingdom has witnessed Alpha variant, South Africa Beta variant, Gamma in Brazil, Lambda in Peru and Delta in India.
These mutants are a threat to humanity and for sure will cause a lot of affliction as they have the potential to evade the immune system or even the available vaccines. It is sad that COVID-19 is attacking some patients for the second time or even the third time, making it a very obnoxious pathogen that evades the immune system in no time. The behaviour of the virus, therefore, requires all of us to realise the following:
People should not confuse issues of public policy and individual rights during international emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. A policy is a public declaration for the benefit of the masses and it is not put in place to suit one person. When government promulgated Statutory Instruments 77, 83, 90 of 2020, it wanted to protect people from the ravaging effects of the virus.
That there is no heroism in refusing to be vaccinated when faced with such a scenario. You hear people saying there was need for consultation about the vaccines. Can government reach consensus at individual level with all the 14 million citizens when people are dying en masse at home?
Many deaths occurring in hospitals are for the unvaccinated and yet you find conspiracy theorists denigrating the vaccines. The 1957/58 Asian flu was halted by Hilleman’s vaccine which was made in 1957, same with the 1968 Hong Kong flu.
Resistance will not yield anything if we are to achieve the health that we desire as a nation. Medical advice is necessary concerning public health issues. It is my prayer that church organisations encourage their members to be vaccinated and not to work against national health interests. Yes rights are there but policies are meant to protect the populace. This is the time for upscaling of vaccination everywhere in our country and it is imperative to expedite the processes in order to cover as many people as possible.
It should be remembered that vaccination which is haphazard and sporadic can result in flare ups. Inasmuch as people will get vaccinated, the fact that there are vaccination gaps in terms of the time of inoculation may allow for mutations to take place in between resulting in further complicated scenarios.
All this will surely keep COVID-19 in circulation for a long time and I do not see the virus disappearing in a short time to come. Africa is behind in terms of vaccination with only about 24 million people having been fully vaccinated or just 1,7% of the entire population.
This is an insignificant fraction if we are dreaming of achieving herd immunity. This means there is going to be misery among many of us in poor countries as the virus will continue to attack unabated. More sickness, usage of resources and deaths still lie ahead of us. COVID-19 is real.
People should know that complacency, defiance, indiscipline, bad behaviour all contribute to COVID-19 misery, morbidity and mortality. Please follow medical guidelines when you are faced with COVID-19 in your life. Continuous steaming without intermittent medical advice is a recipe for disaster, if what we observed during the third wave is anything to go by. COVID-19 will be among us for some time to come!
Spread the word of vaccination wherever you are. The vaccination centre is next to you!
Johannes Marisa is president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners Association of Zimbabwe. He writes here in his personal capacity.