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Lloyd Patrick, 89, years of age, speaks to GML after receiving the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine at the Diego Martin Health Centre, on Monday.

SHARLENE RAMPERSAD

The Sinopharm vaccine, manufactured in China, is safe and can prevent serious illness and death in people who contract the COVID-19 virus.

This from Dr Sanjana Mathur, a Trinidadian currently working as an affiliate faculty member at the University of Florida, College of Medicine.

Mathur was speaking during a virtual discussion about the Sinopharm vaccine hosted by the Supermarket Association of T&T yesterday.

The Ministry of Health’s current vaccination drive was started using 100,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine.

She said the technology used by vaccine manufacturers is not new.

“We call it an inactivated vaccine, in this case, the virus is killed, combined with safe and tested ingredients and injected into muscle,” Mathur said.

She said most citizens have already been injected with inactivated vaccines through the country’s childhood vaccination programme, including vaccines for hepatitis A, polio and rabies.

“ What you are doing when you introduce this dead virus, is basically holding up a picture of this coronavirus virus, you’re saying if you see this man, kill him. So what it does is actually activating your immune system to create the defences needed to fight off if you get an actual COVID-19 infection, so you are priming your body,” Mathur said.

She said being vaccinated is critical because it gives the body’s immune system a fighting chance against the COVID-19 virus. She also addressed fears that the vaccine can cause people to become infected with the virus.

“So if you do come into contact with someone with COVID-19, your body is already prepared to fight. And because it’s a dead virus, it does not replicate, it will not cause you to get infected with COVID-19 after the vaccination.”

But as more mutations of the virus are detected around the world, Mathur said there will be a need for booster shots- most likely at six month intervals.

She said booster shots are being given to those who have received other COVID-19 vaccines as well and not just those who have taken the Sinopharm vaccine.

“I don’t want you to think this is ineffective because it is not. You do mount a response and any response is better than no response. However as variants come out, as the virus mutates, you definitely might need some additional protection.”

Mathur also addressed concerns about the short length of time it took scientists to develop vaccines against COVID-19.

“Time is not a luxury unfortunately when health care systems are collapsing, when people are dying, when economies are crumbling, the world was basically in a lockdown so we had to move pretty quickly.”

She said information from trials done on the Sinopharm vaccine showed an efficacy rate of 78.1 per cent.

In the trial group, one set of people were given the vaccine and the other set were given a placebo. That trial showed those were given the vaccine were less likely to contract the virus than those who were given the placebo.

The most common side effect from the trial was fever- experienced by two per cent of the people who were vaccinated.

“To this date, there is no rare adverse effect from the Sinopharm vaccine and it has been distributed in various countries, 200 million vaccines have been given out and this is what we have found.”

To achieve herd immunity, Mathur said between 50 to 70 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated. At time, vaccines do not prevent people from contracting the virus but prevents them from getting a severe case of the virus that can cause death.

“The goal is reduce the strength of the virus, we want to stop giving it a house, we want to stop it from mutating- when it replicates faster, we get variants. If I could compare this to measles, you will know that we don’t have measles in Trinidad and that is because we have achieved herd immunity because of our very robust vaccination programme- measles is way more contagious than COVID but we don’t see it and it is because 95 per cent of the population is vaccinated so we don’t have measles but that took years to achieve, similarly it will take years to achieve herd immunity for COVID-19.”

She noted the surge of infections on the Indian Ocean archipelago, Seychelles.

Seychelles was heralded as the most vaccinated country in the world- having inoculated about 63 per cent of their population of 98,000 people.

The country moved to reopen its borders and restart tourism- its main source of foreign exchange- on March 25, 2021. But the country has now been locked down again- after COVID-19 cases skyrocketed from 612 cases on April 28 to 1,068 cases on May 3.

Mathur said 37 per cent of the new cases were people who had been given two doses of either the Sinopharm or Covishield (made in India) vaccines.

“So yes people who were vaccinated did get the virus however, 80 per cent of them did not end up in the hospital and to date, none of the patients who died from COVID-19 had been fully vaccinated,” Mathur said.

She is urging citizens to get vaccinated as long as vaccines are available to them.

She said no organisation has recommended getting one vaccine over another and citizens should seek to be vaccinated to protect themselves and their families from contracting COVID-19 and possibly losing their lives to the virus.