Zero To Zero


Vaccines explained – Zero to Zero

28 September 2021
The science behind the Covid-19 vaccine makes it easier to understand and accept.
Vaccines explained Zero to Zero article image

Vaccine hesitancy coupled with people who are outright against vaccines – dubbed anti-vaxxers – have added a novel challenge to managing the Covid-19 pandemic. 🏥

The basics

The World Health Organisation (WHO) explains that germs, also called pathogens, are all around us and these pathogens can cause death, disease, or both. 💀

“Each pathogen is made up of several subparts, usually unique to that specific pathogen and the disease it causes,” reads the WHO website. “The subpart of a pathogen that causes the formation of antibodies is called an antigen. The antibodies produced in response to the pathogen’s antigen are an important part of the immune system. You can consider antibodies as the soldiers in your body’s defence system.”

The way vaccines work is that it contains a weakened or inactive part of an antigen. When you take the vaccine, your immune system kicks into gear to produce a way to fight it off. “Newer vaccines,” says the WHO, “contain the blueprint for producing antigens rather than the antigen itself.

“Regardless of whether the vaccine is made up of the antigen itself or the blueprint so that the body will produce the antigen, this weakened version will not cause the disease in the person receiving the vaccine, but it will prompt their immune system to respond much as it would have on its first reaction to the actual pathogen.”

In this way, your body is equipped with the “weapons” it needs to fight off the enemy, in this case, disease causing germs. Babies too are given numerous vaccines for things like polio and measles. It is not a new concept and least of all, diabolical.

Nothing new

Reputable experts world over agree that the Covid-19 vaccines are a feat to be celebrated, elevating science, research and the collective human experience unlike anything prior to it.

Anthony Fauci, American physician-scientist and immunologist serving as chief medical advisor to the US president writes in the journal, Science: “The development of several highly efficacious vaccines against a previously unknown viral pathogen, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), in less than one year from the identification of the virus is unprecedented in the history of vaccinology.”

He notes that it has given rise to concern about the timeframe because other vaccines have been developed over years. “What is not fully appreciated is that the starting point of the timeline for SARS-CoV-2 vaccines was not 10 January 2020, when the Chinese published the genetic sequence of the virus. Rather, it began decades earlier, out of the spotlight.”

Two factors hugely contributed to the expedition of the Covid-19 vaccine. Coronaviruses have been around for a while, responsible for other outbreaks such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) so work had already been done to tackle it. Then there has been development on the way vaccines are done. Fauci writes: “The utilisation of highly adaptable vaccine platforms such as RNA (among others) and the adaptation of structural biology tools to design agents (immunogens) that powerfully stimulate the immune system. The RNA approach evolved over several years owing to the ingenuity of individual scientists …”

There was a global pool of resources and knowledge sharing to get the vaccine available to everyone with numerous trials being done around the world simultaneously, including South Africa.

The South African front

Health minister Joseph 'Joe' Phaahla says the country’s vaccine roll out is progressing steadily while there is still a long way to go. He adds that all provinces in the country have increased their outreach, especially to the more rural areas. “We appreciate all those who have come forward. And we want to thank all South Africans who have been vaccinated.”

He hopes the Zero to Zero documentary about the experience of health care workers at the Zuid Afrikaans Hospital in Pretoria shows the broader country what health professionals experienced. “[I hope it] makes South Africans more conscious of protecting everyone. Not only [is it about] saving your life, but reducing the burden and risk on the health care workers.”

The government has also allayed religious concerns that the vaccine is the mark of the beast.

“Vaccines have no connection with any religious organisations and cannot be infused with spirits, demons or other abstract ingredients,” reads the SA government website.

“There is no conspiracy to possess, bewitch or control anybody.”

South African medical experts are in agreement that everyone should get the vaccine. Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a clinical infectious diseases epidemiologist expects a fourth wave. “We don't know how many more waves we will have,” he says. “We will expect to have new waves driven by new variants. I would encourage everyone to get the vaccine. Our fundamentals remain very important tools in dealing with the next wave.” These fundamentals include wearing a mask, keeping a social distance, avoiding crowded spaces, and practising good hygiene.😷

Dr Yanila Nyasulu, a specialist physician at the Zuid Afrikaans Hospital where the Zero to Zero documentary was filmed says that despite the fear and worry health professionals have experienced, it is the vaccine that has given them some hope. 🌟

“The one thing that has made it better, is the vaccine,” she says. "We see the vaccine as the end in sight. You see us laugh, cry, and fight – but all of it is for the benefit of the patient. We want our patients to get better.” 👥

Sources: WHO, Science, SA government

See the Zero to Zero documentary on 4 October on #MNet101. Join the conversation online using #ZeroToZero. Find us on Twitter (@MNet),  Instagram (@mnettv), and Facebook (@MNet).