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A Vacuum of Answers
What vaccination in Seychelles tells us about reliable truths in the time of Covid
21 May, 2021
(Illustration: Saurabh Singh)
IT IS ONLY now, a year-and-a-half since the pandemic began, that the World Health Organization is saying that the virus spreads through the air. A little before that, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that transmission through surfaces, the reason why everyone carries a hand sanitiser in his pocket, is extremely rare. So, we got two main routes of transmission wrong. Since the beginning, it was also said that the virus came to birth as a natural mutation and anyone who suggested a manmade possibility was a conspiracy theorist. Now, the needle is shifting in the other direction and reputed science journalists and virologists are demanding a closer look at the idea of whether a laboratory in Wuhan that was experimenting with the creation of new coronaviruses is responsible. But we don’t know that either.
As the vaccines were about to be rolled out, the belief was it would spell the end of the pandemic. Now that seems somewhat optimistic too. There have been drastic reductions in the cases in countries like Israel, the US and UK after a large percentage of their population were vaccinated. But then there is also the instance of Seychelles, where more than 60 per cent of the population of the small island nation had got two doses. It is now seeing a fresh wave of infections. When facts that go against popular scientific consensus come out, the consensus makes a reinterpretation. In this case, it is being said that the new cases in Seychelles are mild. But the nature of Covid itself is that most cases are mild. Without a study, to jump to any conclusion is just a signal of confirmation bias. You could as well say vaccines didn’t work in Seychelles and leave it to someone to prove that wrong.
In India’s second wave, instances of the number of people who have been infected and hospitalised after vaccination is all around. Almost everyone knows someone who died despite being vaccinated. The relentlessness of the anecdotes led to oncologist and writer Siddhartha Mukherjee tweeting that a large proper study needs to be done about the efficacy of vaccines in India and it would take one month at most. In Seychelles, the two vaccines given are Sinopharm, a Chinese brand, and Astra Zeneca (called Covishield in India).
Bloomberg published an article that said all vaccines are not made equal and that perhaps the mRNA ones, which Israel used successfully, are better at preventing asymptomatic infections, thus curtailing spread. But that is again just a theory until you know which are the strains in both countries, and which vaccines act better against which strains. Or at what stage of the wave in a country the vaccines were given, and whether the abatement is temporary in the place where they abated. This is a pandemic in which the answers seem to come when they are no longer as desperately needed, but by then new pressing questions have taken over.
About The Author
Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai
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