Don’t drop public health measures for vaccines in pandemic fight
By Adhere Cavince
Almost a yearsince the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, humanity is yet to get respite from the disease. As of February 10, 2021, the global death toll from the disease stood at 2,333,446, out of the 106,555,206 confirmed cases, according to the WHO.
Many territories and countries are currently under some form of lockdown, aimed at cutting the chain of community transmission from the virus. In addition, vaccination programmes are gaining pace with some 130 million doses having been dispensed around the world, so far.
Despite such efforts, new mutations of the virus are now dimming prospects of vaccine aided recovery. South Africa has for instance suspended use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine after it failed to stop virus variant.
In addition, a surging wave of vaccine skepticism is complicating use of the commodities in Europe. This is besides the fact that developed countries have already gobbled up the vaccines to be produced this year, leaving little hope for developing countries to leverage the commodities and upstage the pandemic. Up to 95% of the vaccines already administered have gone to just 10 countries, according to the world health watchdog.
An effective vaccine is certainly a desirable input into the fight against the pandemic. The drive to prioritize vaccines has however led to relaxed implementation of the recommended social distancing and personal hygiene practices. Yet, it is clear that such practices like consistent wearing of masks, regular hand washing, and avoiding crowded spaces have contributed to the success of countries such as China in managing the pandemic.
When the Covid-19 outbreak was reported in Wuhan, Chinese authorities implemented the first comprehensive lockdown, during which infections and deaths from the pandemic were reduced from thousands to zero, in barely four months.
Although some countries criticized China’s sharp measures and rushed to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, the success rates in containing the pandemic stand in stark contrast. Even before the first vaccine candidate was declared viable, life was cautiously returning to normal in China. Industries, schools, and businesses roared back to life. The epidemics control success anchored China’s economic recovery, becoming the only major country to register positive growth in 2020.
Like other countries, China is not out of the pandemic woods; yet life is fairly predictable. Some citizens who were evacuated from Wuhan have wished they stayed, because their home countries are facing more challenges from the pandemic.
A sick nation cannot pursue any other objective; so is a dead person. In the backdrop of a pandemic, it is critical that governments rally the citizens around preventive measures for effective and sustainable outcomes.
The many restrictions witnessed in Africa at the beginning of the pandemic have largely been downgraded. Citizens no longer feel the need to wear masks. The fatigue has also affected hand washing while social places are again crowded. With emergence of virus variants which are more transmittable, it is like starting all over again.
Chinese on the other hand have exemplified good staying power when it comes to observing the public health protocols, including aggressive testing and tracing. Fourteen-day quarantine is still mandatory in China, irrespective of the stature of incoming persons, who must be Covid-19 free at the point of entry. The availability of the vaccine did not stop China from implementing the prescribed containment measures.
A whole of society approach is needed more than ever, in order to bring the pandemic to an end. A key part of the process is staying faithful to the simple and cost effective behavior at individual level, even as governments do their part in the response.