The media in Malawi has been reporting mixed reactions from the public on the issue of vaccination against COVID. These reports also come against the background of the announcement by the State President of Malawi that a COVID vaccination program would roll out beginning March 2021.
To help provide facts and about vaccine efficacy and the COVID vaccine, the media requested explanations from scientists and health experts on how vaccines work and in particular facts about the COVID vaccine. This resulted into a media briefing that was conducted by Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Program (MLW), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and World Health organization health experts. The briefing was held online on 4th February 2021.
Led by Immunologist, Dr. Kondwani Jambo, MLW scientists defined how vaccines are developed and how they have been used to make positive impact in global health citing examples of polio, smallpox and measles.
Describing the process of how a vaccine is made Dr. Jambo said, “a part of a virus, a harmless part is taken. Then it is introduced in a human and in turn their body produces antibodies”.
From the WHO Malawi Country Office, vaccinologist Dr. Boston Zimba concurred with Dr. Jambo. Dr. Zimba talked about the Oxford/AstraZenecca vaccine that Malawi will be rolling saying it is one of the seven vaccines currently approved for emergency use in the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed over two million people worldwide.
He said that the vaccines have been looked at by ‘stringent regulatory authorities’ defining ‘stringent authorities’ as authorities that have everything required to check a vaccine. “There has not been any shortcuts”, he said.
Representing the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in Malawi, Dr. Mike Chisema also backed the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Journalists then asked if the AstraZenecca vaccine is not suitable for people older than 60 as is being speculated, if one gets immediate immunity from the dose and if one can still transmit after being vaccinated.
In response, Dr. Jamie Rylance from MLW explained that there has indeed been a debate on this because the data from the study had fewer older people. He added that the vaccine is still being given to older people in the UK and that it is a decision of the regulators. “I would be happy to have it and my parents too”, he said.
Dr. Ben Morton from MLW then responded to the question on how soon the vaccine is effective. “The immune system takes time to work (three weeks). You need to carry on behaving in a safe way at an individual level. At population level we should all be careful anyways “.
On whether a person can still transmit the virus after vaccination, Dr. Jambo responded by saying that there is still some investigation by scientists globally and there are no results as of yet.
Mavuto Thomas from the Ministry of Health announced that a communication plan has been developed by the government to assist in civic education and to address misconceptions around the vaccine. Currently the ministry is working on key messages on vaccination before rolling out the communication plan.