The big news this week is the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the South African Covid-19 strain of the virus. It's been making the headlines the world over. Loads of big scary headlines going around. That says a lot in what has been a vintage season for headlines. What are these scary headlines saying?
Vaccine does not work! That could be a headline. A clear and bold headline. A stark headline for our times. A frightening headline in fact. That's the headline no-one wants to read. Not now anyway.
I can imagine Cyril Ramaphosa staring blankly at such a headline as he shakes his head from side to side. Boris Johnson grumbling something in Latin at a similar looking headline. That reads like bad news. Really bad news!
What's in a headline, hey? This piece will have one. Maybe not the one I called the piece. An editorial decision maybe. Headlines were first used by 19th century newspaper men desperate to sell newspapers. After all it is a business. Suffice to say it worked. A way of grabbing your attention, the reader. Headlines can be scary stuff. Striking fear or wonder down you. Plastered big and bold on a rack by the side of a Harare boulevard road or on a screen.
There's a general fear around the South African Covid-19 strain. In particular the effectiveness of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. A recently published study showed that the vaccine offered as little as 10% protection against the Covid-19 strain in South Africa. Alarmed by these results South Africa has suspended its vaccination drive only a week after receiving a million doses of the vaccine.
We are in a time of science. The very frontier of it. Scientists, doctors and researchers speak with authority on TV now, some attaining rock star status. There are experts for experts. This is their world now. I'm not a scientist or a doctor. Something I think that still thoroughly disappoints my mother to this day.
So exactly what did this small-scale trial prove. This trial proved that the vaccine had a low efficacy in protecting against mild to moderate infection. South Africa has initiated a new trial study with a much wider sample size to better understand the vaccine and its efficacy. What does it all mean?
Everything is new and changing very fast. I mean everything; that means the science as well. Am I defending the vaccine? Not really. I'm talking up science. I'm talking about the nuts and bolts of fighting this virus. Don't be fooled by the prim and calm demeanour of our scientists on screen. Behind the scenes they are busy making variants of the vaccines. Viruses mutate as I've learned recently. That's how it works. There is a Californian, Brazilian and UK variant of the virus already about. Not every variant will need a vaccine though.
The reader might suppose everything I've said above is not positive. In fact, it's awful news. Take heart dear reader. That couldn't be further from the truth. This is a huge setback. A setback to South Africa. It's just a setback though, not the end. Only six countries in Africa have received some sort of vaccine and all in relatively small numbers.
That trail proved the vaccine had a 10% efficacy for mild to moderate infections. It did not however prove that the vaccine could not be effective against severe disease or even death. Researchers from AstraZeneca believe there is still great value to the vaccine and how it can be used. In essence this vaccine can still be used to preserve life.
See, there are positives! See, it's not all doom and gloom! I refuse to bow down to the gloom and doom. I'm still holding on to the faith of science.
Why am I scrambling around for positives? What else is there to do? As the world looks to vaccines to provide a way out of the pandemic, stumbles are inevitable. This is a high stakes game of life and death which no one wants to play. The aim of the game is to preserve life.
Most nations will end having a mix of vaccines. Zimbabwe has received a donation of 200 000 vaccines from China already. There is also talk of Zimbabwe acquiring the Russian vaccine. A veritable international cocktail of vaccines to keep the pandemic at bay. This is how the virus will be fought and overcome. A little bit of that and a little bit of this with vaccines in short supply around the world.
As we scramble around to fight the virus. Let us look a bit closer at the facts. The world as it. Headlines can cause us to fear for the worst. There is fatigue in the situation. Fatigue and fear bring with them a certain anxiety to act. Let's be bold and adaptive in our approach to fighting this pandemic. Let's just not throw the baby out with the bath water.