I note with great dismay Noel Kalicharan’s contribution to your newspaper. I had observed the same article in another daily.
Baldly put, the author has misguided himself and runs the risk of dissuading many from taking the vaccines on offer. We risk encouraging snake oil sellers and conspiracy theorists to deceive the population by contributions of this kind. The speed in developing the vaccines and the politicising of the process can give rise to doubts. Moderna and Pfizer have set the pace for disclosing their protocols for the development, including how the trials were structured and what changes were made. (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/17/health/covid-moderna-vaccine.html)
Mr Kalicharan laments the lack of availability of more detailed data for evaluation. Two responses: this is entirely normal for what is an emergency. One does not have the time (a process that can take months) to publish the detailed results and methodology in a journal. He misses the fact that all these vaccines have to pass a rigorous process before WHO approval. Indeed, the data is evaluated by an independent data safety monitoring group appointed by the National Institutes of Health for the US authorised vaccines. The Food and Drug Administration performs separate tests.
The second response is that I do not believe that he inhabits the medical world where this discussion occurs. I guess we are now all experts who want to review the data before blessing it. This position is a bar set low for the uninformed who inhabit the nether parts of social media.
We should focus on the point that these vaccines are saving lives. “It’s going to save your life—that’s where the emphasis has to be right now”- Dr Peter Hotez of the Baylor College of Medicine. These vaccines are as good as those used to fight chickenpox and measles, and they do not even have to be so safe to crush the effects of this virus.
Mr Kalicharan doubles down with a grave misunderstanding of the efficacy and effectiveness data. Both these concepts are related but yet are different. Efficacy is a measurement in a clinical trial. Vaccines are tested on healthy volunteers as they have always been. Effectiveness is what happens in the real world.
Pfizer and BioNTech’s trial included nearly 44,000 volunteers, half of whom received the vaccine. The other half received a placebo shot of salt water. The companies said that out of 170 cases of Covid-19, 162 were in the placebo group, and eight were in the vaccine group. Out of ten cases of severe Covid-19, nine had received a placebo. The vaccine’s efficacy was consistent across age, race and ethnicity. The most common serious adverse event was fatigue, with 3.7 per cent of volunteers reporting tiredness after they took the second dose. Two per cent of volunteers said they had a headache after the second dose.
We need to consider that two different vaccines made by two separate companies with two different kinds of structures in a new messenger RNA concept worked effectively.
The effectiveness data on vaccination campaigns in the US are now becoming available. The states that have had success in ensuring that residents had at least one dose have seen the benefits. Massachusetts and the rest of New England—the most heavily vaccinated region in the US—have seen Covid-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths steadily dropping. In contrast, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, which are the least vaccinated at around 35 per cent, are seeing new cases relative to the population are generally running higher there. The proof is in the eating, or should we say, vaccinating?
The big hurdle is the vaccination programme, not the vaccines. Vaccines do not save lives if they do not get into our arms. If we win on that front, we will get out of this firestorm. Until then, can we ask Mr Kalicharan and others of the same ilk to keep quiet or to pray for God’s help?
Port of Spain