Sunday, May 19, 2024

Managing expectations rather than creating undue public excitement on the vaccine is advisable

We have known for quite a while now that all covid-19 statistics were heading the wrong way; the cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Everybody has been left shellshocked, even helpless.

This has put government under pressure to be seen to be doing something.

Botswana is out there in the market shopping for a covid-19 vaccine, said president Mokgweetsi Masisi.

He said this last week as he paid courtesy calls on the frontline workers, who it has to be said have been doing an incredibly good job under exceedingly difficult circumstances.

The president is right to keep searching for a vaccine in the market. 

For now it sounds more like a wishlist than anything concrete.

Like all of us the president and his government are panic-stricken.

They go into the market under immense pressure; from domestic politics and also from international dynamics.

Locally the opposition is asking more pointed questions. And for once they are relevant.

Across the world there is limited vaccine supply.

Finding the vaccine will not be easy given the heightened global demand. Manufacturers are also overstretched.

If the vaccines arrive in Botswana on time, that will be a high watermark of the Masisi presidency.

If that does not happen the opposition will scent blood.

We should keep our fingers crossed.

But we should also be realistic in our expectations.

Already there are deep anxieties over shortfalls in key producing jurisdictions like the European Union.

Countries are eager to put restrictions on their companies from exporting vaccines overseas before meeting all of domestic demands.

African leaders have labeled this “Vaccine Nationalism.” 

This is not entirely true in that Western Europe and the United States gambled on their vaccine manufacturing companies.

Now they are reaping the rewards of their bets.

They have signed contracts with manufacturers and perhaps more crucially, also used their tax payer’s money to subsidise supply chains.

Of course this amounts to block-buying. But without such investments, many of the vaccine manufacturers were unwilling or totally unable to bear the risk.

There is no evidence to suggest that african countries are being treated as second-order customers.

As usual African leaders are playing victims. They do not seem to care much that these are life and death matters for their people. 

We know Botswana Government like many in Africa has purchased Covax using the assistance of WHO.

The doses, when they arrive will only cover 20 percent of the population, too few to get close to what is needed to achieve herd immunity.

The visit by the president to frontline workers was important and powerful for its symbolism.

Many of these people are privately dealing with trauma and related stress from their line of duty.

Yet we still expect them to turn up for duty everyday.

These people are exhausted and emotionally drained.

When a Member of Parliament stands up in the House and says he is ready to beat up a nurse, they should be called out, not least because nurses are even without such irresponsible utterances from a national leader, already being subjected to heinous attacks including by patients, relatives of those patients and even bandits who attack hospitals and clinics.

Fatigue has been identified as a key symptom among survivors.

The truth is that the carers are no less fatigued.

Botswana, like the rest of the world needs a vaccine.

And it looks like vaccines will for the foreseeable future be in short supply.

Just this week both the Mayor and Governor of New York said they do not have vaccine supplies.

As a result, they had to turn away multitudes of people who had come willing and ready to get jabs on their shoulders. And New York is a very important part of the United States.

And for now, focus remains exclusively on priority categories. These include the elderly, the frontline workers and those considered clinically vulnerable.

Vaccine is for now a crucial component towards suppressing the pandemic.

It is nothing short of a miracle that only a year after the pandemic started, the world now has more than one vaccine with which to fight back.

It often takes close to ten years or even more.

What is remarkable is that scientists are uniquely unanimous on the efficacy and safety of these vaccines.

The vaccines, tested and peer reviewed mark the triumph of science and human innovation over adversity.

But new scientific evidence is also pointing out that important as it is, these vaccines will not be enough to suppress much less bring covid-19 to an end.

This is what Botswana Government should continue preaching alongside their efforts to purchase vaccines.

Botswana government should avoid selling the vaccines as a panacea to Covid-19 because it is not.

Just as humanity is fighting back, Covid-19 is also pushing back.

There is no turning over a new leaf just yet.

Several new strains have been found, including in Africa.

So far evidence is that the new strains are no more deadly than has been the case hitherto.

But they transmit far more efficiently. Some figures put their transmission close to 50 percent more.

Evidence from elsewhere shows that poorly controlled transmission is really a breeding ground for new variants.

South Africa, just next door has been one such country.

Contrary to a previous belief that an infection provided immunity through antibodies, scientists are now saying that is not the case. Some previously affected people have been re-infected because they did not have sufficient immunity and or antibodies.

That should be the cause for worry, because what it implies is that vaccine will not on its own lead to big herd immunity as was initially hoped.

This is science. It is also enough proof that a lot is still unknown about Covid-19.

The fact that it mutates so easily thus becoming more transmissible should really get authorities at the forefront of planning more worried.

It is not enough to say that new variants are no more deadly.

The fact that a variant can infect more people and quicker means it can get more people dead than has been the case.

The threat still looms large.

Vaccine gives great hope. The President and government are right to seek to purchase vaccine. But they should be open too about the limits of vaccines on these instances.

In Europe and America, scientists are already talking about the possibility of populations taking doses every year.

For those who we look up to for leadership in this fight, the latest wave reminds us never to be tempted to take premature victory laps as has happened before.

The timeless potency of Amilcar Cabral’s dictum – tell no lies, claim no easy victories – has never rung more aptly.


Read this week's paper