Why should I continue to wear a mask after taking the Covid-19 vaccine? This is an important question, one of the many trending the social media. It is astounding that we have a vaccine that appears to be 95% effective and very safe; hopefully it will soon be accessible to the public to put an end to the pandemic. Realistically, this will take time. While the Covid-19 vaccines are an achievement that marks historic scientific developments and hold much promise for the future, there is still a lot to be learned about the behaviour of both the virus and the efficacy of the vaccine in the real world. It is critical that people continue to wear masks to protect those yet to receive it.
It is rather disturbing that our pro-Mthwakazi movements have opted to leave such a critical issue in today’s public health to individual member hearsay. Do we not value health so much that our movements will not create specialist departments devoted to it? We believe politics of sloganeering that excludes the wellbeing of the population is inadequate or to be frank, it is sick. We cannot ignore the Covid-19 and claim to be leaders of the Mthwakazi renaissance. Jolting all systems and institutions must be our goal and they do not come greater than building a healthy healthcare system. Mthwakazi is a young population and protecting its health is priceless.
Covid-19 is a real threat not only to life but to the way we live within Mthwakazi and how we relate with the international community. While the safety guidelines in place (avoiding indoor gatherings, hand hygiene, using hand of sanitisers, practising safe distancing, wearing masks, lockdown, etc) have been largely effective in reducing the spread of the disease and aiding recovery, it has long become clear these measures alone will not be sufficient in containing and eradicating this pandemic. Thus the Covid-19 vaccine became core to achieving global containment and eradication of the pandemic.
The disparity in views on the Covid-19 vaccine is wide but whatever our views, the importance of objective, high quality information cannot be overemphasised. We know too there is a lot of anxiety and confusion in our communities with regards to Covid-19 – be it its very existence or its severity or management or treatment or the vaccine and its effects or motives behind it, etc. These are contextually appropriate anxieties and worries. Our movement, and indeed the entire science community, may not yet have all the answers but we must seek to address those issues the best we can to ease tension in our communities.
A lot of contradictory information on the Covid-19 vaccine is flying about in our communities, a mixture of the good and bad but some of the powerful information that is available in formats easily accessible to the public happens to be mostly spurious advice from self-proclaimed specialists who are most probably anti-vaccine or are ill-informed themselves. Let not our people die twice, first of ignorance and then second of the Covid-19. It is our duty to empower the public with the latest scientifically proven information so they can make informed decisions or take necessary precautions in the management of the Covid-19.
What we already know is that the new Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and the Oxford-AstraZeneca seem to be remarkably good at preventing serious illness that would otherwise necessitate hospitalisation. But what is yet to be clarified is how well the vaccine will curb the spread of the coronavirus.
This is because the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and the Oxford-AstraZeneca trials tracked only how many vaccinated people became sick with Covid-19. That leaves open the possibility that some vaccinated people get infected without developing symptoms, and could then silently transmit the virus — especially if they come in close contact with others or stop wearing masks.
If vaccinated people are asymptomatic carriers and silent spreaders of the virus, they may keep it circulating in the community, putting unvaccinated people at risk. Asymptomatic people would have the virus in their nasal passageway so that if they are speaking, breathing, sneezing and so on, they can still transmit it to others. Also crucial is that we do not yet know how long the developed immunity lasts once a person is vaccinated. It is therefore critical for people to know that they have to keep wearing masks, because they could still be contagious.
Primary to achieving public health goals is effective education. Education dispels myths and takes away anxiety that could be exploited by unscrupulous characters in our communities. We respect the notion that ‘it’s your body, it’s your choice’ but we will not keep a neutral position. We argue that those eligible have more to gain than lose by taking the vaccine. With the evidence at hand, the vaccines on the market are safe and effective. To the best of our knowledge in the trials carried out by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and the Oxford-AstraZeneca nobody died from the vaccine. We believe vaccinating the population will mark a significant step towards eradicating the pandemic. But let us keep the masks on and follow physical distancing guidelines as well as other measures until such a time that sufficient numbers of people are vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. And let us wait for scientific advice on the way forward.