Health is a personal matter until it’s a matter of public health. Like when the world is in the grips of a pandemic as it is now. I would not normally (I don’t think) share the sordid details of my illnesses. I qualify that because I suffer, happily, from rude health. The rationale for what I’m about to share is also not to change anyone’s mind, but rather to share why I did. Your choice remains your choice; your beliefs, are yours, too. I respect both.
A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing
When talk of the vaccine started, last year, I was anxious and skeptical. Through the work that I’ve done over the years, and again last year, I’ve learned the lengths (and time) it takes to get medicines from development to market. Partly because of this, and also living in South Africa, where we have the highest infection rate in the world, I’ve tracked the thirty-plus year journey to develop a vaccine against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Again, through my work, I’ve
been exposed to had to work with the data.
Not enough information
I am not a scientist, but understanding the processes was enough to make me skeptical and scared that things – developing a vaccine – were being done in a rush. Mostly, I kept my own counsel. The Husband and I, both, at some point, said to
ourselves each other:
Nope. I won’t get vaccinated, I’ll take my chances.
Like so many, that was before we knew, or knew of, people who had been afflicted, survived and/or worse still, died. That was also before there were known variants. A development that only surprised us in the rapidity with which changes are happening; all viruses mutate. That shocked us, as did the fact that with each mutation, this virus seems to get more vicious.
Besides anything, it was becoming increasingly evident that dying from, or living with, the long term effects of Covid disease didn’t bear thinking about. Two people in our local friendship circle, that we know of, have had the Delta variant, one after her first jab; both were very ill. The daughter of an acquaintance, remains fatigued. None of them wishes the disease on their worst enemies.
Paying attention to the news – some of it good
Like most people, I’ve paid more than passing attention to numbers and, as I mentioned, the vaccine “race”. More than that, though, are the
stories reports of the extent to which this pandemic has stretched countries’ health systems: in South Africa, particularly in poor and under-resourced areas, as well as in other parts of the world.
More telling, though, is the fact that among the cohort of health workers who received the JnJ vaccine, and where there were breakthrough infections, only point zero five percent (0.05%) resulted in severe illness and death. The results are similar for those of us who have received the mandatory two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
The work started donkeys years ago
For at least the last twenty years, there have been public service announcements exhorting the population, particularly over a particular age, and with co-morbities (now we all know what those are…) to get the flu jab. Influenza is also a member of the corona virus family. All the research that has gone into the vaccines for Covid-19 is built on this solid foundation. And then some. The research into messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) is not new, or confined to Covid.
People developing the vaccine
In this country, we are privileged and proud – well I am – to be home to some of the world’s leading public health academics. They are doing important work on the pandemic. One, Glenda Gray, whose name I remember from the early 1990s and early (and ongoing) work in HIV has not only helped to secure vaccines for South Africa’s health workers, but is a leading researcher in the JnJ trial. Another, and who, until recently, played a significant role in advising the South African government, is now a member of the World Health Organisation’s Science Council.
Their calm, reasoned discourse has had a profound impact. That and constantly adding to my little bit of knowledge:
I began to change my mind. I did.
Then the vaccine roll-out
Here, as in most countries, the vaccination programme was rolled out in a triaged way, beginning with anyone over 60. The initial timeframe, saw me getting vaccinated sometime in 2022. I, like so many South Africans were disheartened, especially those not a “special” group like mine workers, teachers, or…. However, that has changed and just in the last two weeks, anyone 18 years old and up can get vaccinated.
Putting my phobia behind me
I am both needle phobic and have a terror of most things medical. Thanks to a bad experience in childhood and a three-week hospital stint after a car accident in my early 20s. In early July, just a day or two ahead of The Husband’s scheduled appointment for his jab in Robertson, the window opened for the over fifties. We decided that I should go along for the ride.
With so few people turning out, it was a quick and easy in and out. Despite my phobia, I got my first jab. My Instagram “report” is here.
Six weeks later, as even more vaccination sites had opened up, I was due for my second dose and was designated to go to the local clinic. We both went.
With many more people, it took a little longer, but it was still a relatively speaking quick, easy and mostly painless experience. That IG report is here.
Neither of us has had a reaction. Other than tenderness on the injection site and for me, the first time round, a pretty sore arm. My sister-in-law, a health worker, experienced fever and headache after the JnJ jab. Another friend, fatigue after her first Pfizer jab. Yet another had, what the doctors suspect was a minor stroke, on two occasions, and each time, about three weeks after each jab; happily, she’s now recovered. We, and they, all say, rather that than severe Covid or death.
In less than ten months last year, between March and November, I wrote eleven pieces that had either this virus, the pandemic and the associated fallout as the central theme. There’s a full list of them here. By and large, my views, other than on vaccination, have not changed and the fallout continues. And will for some time to come.
Part of an experiment
I acknowledge that we are all part of a global
experiment learning: scientifically and socially. We can rail against it, but unless one has real power, there’s not a lot we can do about it. That said, there is some logic and sensibility to many of the restrictions. So, we (have to) obey the curfews and stick with the non-pharmaceutical interventions, stay safe and go with a sensible flow.
Getting the jab does not mean life has gone, or will go back to normal, or that we can drop the masks and consort with strangers. We are still in the throes of a third wave. There’s talk of the fourth – potentially in December. Again, for hospitality and tourism, the timing could not be worse.
We are fortunate in our little bubble to have been somewhat insulated from the pandemic but, as we have learned, first hand, breakthrough infections do happen. What the jab does, is prevent one from getting really, really sick, needing
hospitalisation to be sedated and intubated or dying. Equally significantly, if I do get Covid disease, I am less likely to spread it to those around me, near and dear (especially) and not so dear. The vaccination means that I will have a lower viral load so I will not transmit the virus as easily.
I would still rather not – get the virus, be ill or spread it.
I want the village – and the world – to resume its
normal traditional activities; to dance in the street again and wave the old year good bye. Hell knows, we’ve all had some bad ones.
I want the economy to recover. I need to work again. I want young people to be able to live and let live. I want to be able to celebrate milestones and inconsequential birthdays. I want to do more than share virtual meals. I want to want to put up the Christmas tree. We want to be able, and have the inclination to, invite folk around to break bread or for a gathering in the garden. Just because. We. Can. Again.
The people who know, tell us that 70% of the world’s population must be vaccinated before this virus will be conquered. This COVID-19 Vaccine 101 Card and which you are welcome to download and share, helped to firm up my decision about getting vaccinated. It’s easy to understand and includes references and sources of more, and
current constantly updated, information.
Looking back through my
old photographs of times that were happier and more carefree, I realise more than ever that I want that – happy and carefree – for all our futures, again.
Getting vaccinated takes me (and us) one step closer.
This is just my opinion based on my reading, listening and learning. I made an informed choice and have shared some of the links to the information that made me realise that just a little bit of knowledge was dangerous.
For even more information –
In South Africa, visit the Department of Health’s Covid portal and/or the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. For readers from other parts of the world, the Center for Disease Control and Johns Hopkins are useful starting points.
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
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