Gigantic steps made by scientists and the pharmaceutical industry to invent a vaccine to manage the Covid-19 pandemic are threatened by public fear and anxiety, reported adverse drug reaction (ADR) and more worryingly by deliberate misinformation from those against the vaccination programme. Social media has become the hub of lies about the pandemic and vaccines’ risks from opponents.
Covid-19 misinformation in Matabeleland
Matabeleland has not been spared misinformation about vaccines and the objectives of the vaccination; social media is flooded with misinformation from locals raising doubt in people’s minds and in the process compromising public health. Querying the safety of vaccines and the moral justification of attempts by business and some states to make the vaccination programme mandatory is a reasonable question but outright lies about the dangers posed by the vaccines is morally bereft.
Education about the vaccines and vaccination
An effective and efficient management of the Covid-19 pandemic requires global collaboration, effective education, access to scientifically backed information and timely decisions being made. For understandable reasons, experts do not have answers to all the questions from a concerned public as they themselves are still learning about the various aspects of the Covid-19 virus.
But it can be argued that the information already known and shared by reputable institutions in various media outlets will be vital in the management of the pandemic.
In this article we try and address some major issues around the Covid-19 vaccines and/ or vaccination.
Goals of the vaccination programme
We highlight four goals of Covid-19 vaccination: 1. reduction of pressure on the healthcare system, 2. reduction of overall Covid-19 severity and mortality, 3. re-opening of society and 4. disease elimination.
Importance of drug safety
Anxiety and fear around Covid-19 vaccines is understandable. These drugs are new in the market; significantly they were given emergency approval by different governments – for many people the feeling is that the drugs were developed and availed for public use far too rapidly and there is generalised fear protocol may have been compromised in the process.
Drug safety is paramount to public health and a series of steps are taken by all involved in the development of drugs to ensure high standards are maintained. The same is true with the Covid-19 vaccines.
Adverse drug reactions have a negative effect on individual health; they affect public perception and confidence in a drug, pharmaceutical industry and the healthcare system, and lack of confidence will impact uptake of clinical interventions which in turn may have serious repercussions to overall public health.
Pharmacovigilance defined by WHO (2002) as the science and activities relating to the detection, assessment, understanding and prevention of adverse effects or any other drug-related problem is important in the extraction and communication of vital information about the safety and risks of the vaccines.
Adverse Drug Reaction is ‘A response to a drug which is noxious and unintended, and which occurs at doses normally used in man (sic) for the prophylaxis, diagnosis, or therapy of disease, or for the modifications of physiological function’ (WHO, 1972). An ADR will usually require a drug to be discontinued or the dose to be reduced.
ADR concerns from Covid-19 vaccines
Cases of fatal adverse reaction to the Astra-Zeneca vaccine (in particular blood clots) have been reported. There have been reports too of inflammation of the heart from the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine but no fatalities reported to date. Any death of a client due to a drug meant to protect them is regrettable and taken serious.
The deaths from the Covid-19 vaccine have not been treated any different, they have been given the seriousness they deserve and it is hoped, unfortunate as the deaths have been, they will provide vital information to help improve the safety of the drugs. At this point it is important to highlight that ADR events occur all the time but most are not fatal, we will urge the Matabeleland public not to be put off the vaccination.
Drugs that commonly cause adverse reaction
ADRs from the Covid-19 vaccines are worrisome but it has to be understood that any medication can trigger an allergic reaction, but some are more likely than others. Medicines that have been particularly implicated in ADR-related hospital admissions include antiplatelets, anticoagulants, cytotoxics, immunosuppressants, diuretics, antidiabetics and antibiotics.
WebMD highlights the following drugs:
- Antibiotics — amoxicillin (Moxatag), ampicillin, penicillin (Bicillin L-A), tetracycline, etc.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen
- Chemotherapy drugs
- HIV drugs — abacavir (Ziagen), nevirapine (Viramune), etc.
- Antiseizure drugs — carbamazepine (Tegretol), lamotrigine (Lamictal), phenytoin, etc.
Debunking the vaccine lies with science backed facts is a national responsibility. Misinformation presents a greater risk to public health than the ADRs from the vaccine. Access to science backed information must be improved and effective filters used in social media platforms to identify and highlight misinformation. We empathise with individuals who fear mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations would be an infringement of the freedoms and human rights. It is everybody’s hope that political leaders will not infringe on people’s human rights and freedoms under the pretext of protecting public health but that science guided evidence will inform all decisions on public health. However, we would like to point out that not all rights are absolute; where necessary human rights may be limited in the interest of public health. We urge people of Matabeleland to make informed decisions about their duties to protect the very vulnerable in our society.