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Mass Covid-19 immunisation a prerequisite to resumption of normal life, vaccines are here to save lives says the Board of Healthcare Funders (BHF)

26 July 2021 Board of Healthcare Funders (BHF)

The Board of Healthcare Funders (BHF) has dispelled mistrust about the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines. It has pointed out that a return to normalcy will only be achieved if at least 67% of the population is vaccinated, to prevent the rapid spread of the virus and to ease the burden on healthcare facilities that are buckling under the strain of surging Covid-19 cases.

According to a report released by the National Department of Health (NDoH), as of Tuesday, of the 8,99 million medical scheme members, 17.8 % (1,6 million) of them have been vaccinated.

The BHF is the biggest representative body for private funders, representing medical schemes, administrators and managed care organisations throughout the Southern African region, with membership in South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi and Swaziland.

So far, over 4,2 million cumulative numbers of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in the country as at 11 July, which represents 2,3% of the population compared with the global average of over 940 131 842, which represents 12,1% of the population according to Johns Hopkins University.

Dr Katlego Mothudi, managing director of the Board of Healthcare Funders (BHF), says, “Vaccines have a long and proven track record in containing the spread of diseases, and in certain instances have contributed to the total eradication of a number of diseases such as smallpox and polio. Before smallpox was eradicated, it was a very serious and highly infectious disease caused by the contagious variola virus (VARV), which had two variants, Variola major and Variola minor. Today, there are no more cases of smallpox because of vaccine development. In addition, we have seen that there has been increased production in the incidence or occurrence of new cases of diseases like polio. The science behind the value of vaccines has long been established and the world, including the South African population, has benefited from the use of vaccines.

Mothudi argues that it should not be any different with the Covid-19 vaccine. What we need is a lot of consumer education on the importance and impact that vaccines can have in improving the current situation.

“If we do not vaccinate enough people at a specific rate, we run the risk of not reaching herd immunity, which means our return to a normal life and economic activity will also be hampered. Without herd immunity, we will forever be required to go into lockdowns and defer living our lives normally.”

Mothudi cited the United States, where just over 56% of the population have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 48,5% of the population has been fully vaccinated, the United Kingdom where 68,8% have received one dose and 52,2% are fully vaccinated, Canada where about 67.9% have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine; and Germany where 58,6% have received one dose and 42,7% of the population have been fully vaccinated. He cited other countries in Europe as prime examples of the benefits of herd immunity due to mass Covid-19 vaccinations, with growing instances of a resumption of mass events such as football matches, with limited in-person attendance, mask use and physical distancing measures.

“We have seen a semblance of normality in countries where enough people have been vaccinated. While there will be people who will test positive for Covid-19, fewer people will become sick enough to warrant hospitalisation or even to succumb to the virus,” adds Mothudi.

He points out that the cynicism about the quick turnaround time of the Covid-19 vaccine is unfounded. Historically, vaccine development took decades before it was rolled out to market.

“The quick turnaround time for the Covid-19 vaccine is due to a number of factors, namely the urgency to arrest the spread of the pandemic, improved collaboration and sharing of information by scientists and healthcare institutions globally, expedited regulatory approval due to readily available data and improved technologies for vaccine development.

“We have learned something from the pandemic and the art of collaboration has been dramatically improved. There was no cutting of corners, as pharmaceutical companies were still required to demonstrate and adhere to stringent protocols relating to efficacy and safety of the vaccines, which is a huge component of the approval process,” says Mothudi.

He continued that it is important that people should be properly informed, through the right channels of communication, about how vaccines work and what they are designed for. Vaccines contain weakened or inactive parts of a particular organism (antigen) that triggers an immune response within the body to help the body fight viruses. Newer vaccines contain the blueprint for producing antigens rather than the antigen itself. These weakened organisms trigger the body’s response to the real virus by producing antibodies that allow the body to fight the infection.

“While there is a lot of complexity in understanding the vaccine production process, the important take out is that vaccines are designed to save lives, and that’s what we need right now, especially within the context of the fact that to date the country has recorded just over 64 500 Covid-19-related deaths,” notes Mothudi.

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