Commentary

COVID-19 and vaccinations

April, 2021

By: Paul Jarvie

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COVID-19 has become part of the normal language and narrative around the world. It has been with us for just over twelve months, but in that time has caused seismic changes to countries, populations, economies and families.

The research sectors worked collaboratively to produce the vaccines currently being rolled out across the world and vaccines have been around since 1796, when Edward Jenner created a smallpox vaccine. Since then, dozens of different vaccines have been developed and are now commonplace within medicine.

Vaccines work by preparing the bodies defence systems by primming the body to develop and store antibodies for the target virus. When a person becomes infected with that virus, the body is already set to fight the virus from day one onwards. The body simply overwhelms the virus, and the infection dies.

Without vaccines the body needs to identify the virus, slowly develop its defence and then roll it out. This takes time and all the while the virus has been rapidly reproducing and moving around to different organs. The infection can take over and cause illness and in some cases death.

The vaccine being rolled out in NZ is not a live virus, nor is it part of a live virus. It is a sub part of a virus shape which has been synthetically developed to look like part of a virus, this is enough to stimulate the body’s immune response mechanisms. Being vaccinated will give the person immunity against the virus, i.e., it is very unlikely the person can become infected, or if they are the infected it will only be very mild or almost asymptomatic.

National vaccination programmes are designed to attain herd immunity. Herd immunity is a state where there are enough people within the community that are vaccinated so that the virus has no place to go. Viruses need a living human body to live and reproduce and if there are no unvaccinated people, it cannot find a host.

There is still some debate about what figure is needed to attain herd immunity, but the Ministry of Health is aiming for 80% plus, where more is obviously better. Given that there will always be some people who are medically unable to receive the vaccine, and others who choose not to be vaccinated for their own reasons, reaching 80% will remain a challenge. We know that students under 16 are not being offered the vaccine at this time and they make up 20% of the population. Research continues to indicate that vaccinating the under 16’s is highly beneficial, so it may well be that this population will be vaccinated in the future.

Aside from vaccinations, good personal hygiene remains a proven method of control. Hand washing with soapy water kills the virus buy dissolving its fatty outer layer and sanitising high touch points are beneficial. We know the virus is mainly transmitted by airborne droplets caused by coughing, sneezing, and speaking.  Social distancing of 2 meters can halve the virus’s ability to be transmitted.

We saw the other benefits of personal hygiene during last year’s COVID response. The normal seasonal winter flu was almost non-existent, and the common colds was dramatically reduced. This is the power of good public health initiatives.

Employers are encouraged to support their staff to being vaccinated, giving paid time off and providing official government information to them to assist in making an informed decision.

Employers who demonstrate care and concern for their staff are also assisting their staff’s wellbeing journey.

We know that many staff have suffered degrees of mental health conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic and by demonstrating care and concern it can help mitigate these concerns and conditions.

Keeping staff healthy is a win for staff, their families and you.

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