October 8, 2021
Editor’s Note: In an earlier version of this article we wrote that the Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson vaccines were the two mRNA vaccines available in South Africa. We have since corrected this statement to reflect that the Pfizer is mRNA based while the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is developed using more traditional based virus technology.
Medical rumours that spread and fuel resistance to vaccines are not limited to South Africa and are certainly not new. There is a new way to minimise the turbulence it causes and it starts with understanding the misinformation around vaccines and building trust around open conversations.
Vaccination hesitancy is not new. Measles anti-vaxers, for example, have been campaigning that the vaccine causes autism for almost two decades. Beneath their belief, however, we see that the principles of association and causation have been recklessly applied. What measles anti-vaxers have done is link the association of autism to the cause of getting their child vaccinated.
Specialist Physician Dr Clive Pettipher from Busamed Paardevlei Private Hospital has debunked this myth surrounding vaccines and causation. He says, “If a person had to stand on the beach in 33C weather and drink a bottle of sparkling water, we might link their red, inflamed skin to the bottle of water when in fact the sun burn they are experiencing has been caused by unprotected sun exposure on a particularly hot day.”
Says Dr. Pettipher, “Association and causation becomes dangerous when action is taken based on those assumptions. Can you imagine the catastrophe on our hands if we suddenly linked water drinking to sun burn? My approach is to humanly engage with patients who confide their hesitancy to me and then work together with them to trace what their real fear is.”
The World Health Organisation’s Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan says the organisation has a pharmacovigilance system that works with regulators and manufacturers. It also collaborates on information sharing with countries where safety monitoring systems are set up to constantly review any adverse events related to vaccines. “Over 150 million doses of vaccines have been administered around the world. And so far, the safety signals have been reassuring,” she says.
Particularly with Covid-19 vaccinations, says Dr. Pettipher, a large fear of how fast the vaccine has been developed has been presented to him on numerous occasions. “In effect, what appears to be lightning speed to the layman, is actually experts applying themselves through collaboration and technology. Collaborations aid distribution and development and makes it seem as though vaccines have been developed in a rush, but this is not the case. Vaccines undergo rigorous control procedures. We must make the distinction between having access to information and having understanding of that information.”
Says Dr. Pettipher, “There is no scientific information that the Covid-19 vaccine causes infertility. We’ve heard of so many women advising one another not to vaccinate as it interferes with their ability to conceive. This is simply not where or how the vaccine works and it is developed by adhering to strict protocols.”
Dr. Katherine O’Brien, a paediatric infectious disease physician and epidemiologist with WHO says, “This is a rumour that has gone around about many different vaccines and there’s no truth to the rumour. There’s no vaccine that causes infertility.”
Dr. Pettipher says the two vaccines administered in South Africa (and the world) are referred to as mRNA vaccines. “mRNA cannot turn into DNA and it cannot alter the DNA of your human cells.” According to WHO, mRNA is an instruction to the body to make a protein found in the virus. By doing this, our bodies then make the fix for that tiny little protein and our natural immune system responds to it and gets to work to immunise us from that protein going forward.
Says Dr. O’Brien, “This is a myth. The vaccines that we have are safe vaccines. All the components that go into vaccines are heavily tested to be sure that everything that is in there, at the dose that is in there, is safe for humans. The vaccines do contain a number of different elements and each of them is tested. Before they’re ever given to a human, they’re tested in animals and they’re tested for any kind of problem in the animal.”
She says clinical trials are conducted in humans with a sample size of tens of thousands of people receiving the vaccine, before it is authorised for use in the general public.
Says Dr. Pettipher, “Safety protocols during the clinical trials phase are taken extremely seriously. A safety evaluation is conducted on every single vaccine and the manufacturing process has constant and diligent oversight of quality and safety.”
Yes. Particularly with Busamed’s vaccination sites at Busamed Harrismith Private Hospital and Busamed Modderfontein Private Hospital, we are mindful of the discourse surrounding vaccines. Our patient and professional staff are committed to humane education and administration of vaccines so that all of us are protected and safe.
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