Vaccine still the best option
Vaccine still the best option

Generating antibodies through vaccines is the safest option, say experts

Being vaccinated against Covid-19 is still the best option despite the rising number of breakthrough infections being reported across the world.

Breakthrough infections are cases where individuals get infected despite being vaccinated against a particular pathogen.

Such infections are being reported across the world including Bangladesh, even amongst those who have received both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Rashedul (not his real name), 55, got infected in early November, months after receiving his second dose.

Despite having diabetes, high blood pressure and heart conditions, he did not need to be hospitalized and he eventually tested negative on the first day of December.

“If I am not protected from infection, what is the point of taking the vaccines?” he asked.

He added that he had caught the infection from friends and family who remained careless despite having contracted the disease.

Even though the existing vaccines are unable to prevent the illness in some cases, studies have shown that the symptoms of breakthrough infections are much milder in a vaccinated individual.

Experts have said, even though contracting the virus does produce antibodies in the body, the acceptable way to develop the antibodies is through vaccines.

Hence, they recommend ensuring vaccines for the largest section of the population, administering booster doses for the elderly and frontline professionals and people with co-morbidity.

However, the best option is to ensure necessary health guidelines so as to not contract the virus in the first place, they said.

A global concern

Breakthrough infections are not limited to Bangladesh only. According to the hopkinsmedicine.org, a study in Washington gathered data from over 4 million fully vaccinated people which showed about 1 in 5,000 people experiencing breakthrough infection between January 17 and August 21, 2021. More recently, some populations have shown breakthrough infection rates of approximately 1 in 100 fully vaccinated people.

These kinds of infections were remarkably rare in the early months of mass vaccination in the USA but the scenario changed when the deadly Delta variant emerged. Experts have warned of the possibility of a rise in breakthrough infections, given that the new dominant strain, Omicron is currently making up 73% of the new infections.

Meanwhile in Bangladesh, the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), hinted at a similar possibility in a media statement on December 20.

It found that four out of 20 people, who died in the past week from the infection, were fully vaccinated while the remaining 16 had not received their shots.

However, the DGHS did not provide any data on how many people were infected after taking both doses of vaccines.

In October, abcnews.go.com published a report citing US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention data which showed that compared to a fully vaccinated person, an unvaccinated individual is at a five times greater risk of contracting the coronavirus while the risks of fatality are 14 times more.

Moreover, compared to a fully vaccinated person with a booster, an unvaccinated individual is at a 10 times greater risk of testing positive for Covid and at 20 times greater risk of dying.

mRNA technology more effective

Antibodies are produced in the human body in two ways through vaccines — humoral immunity and cellular immunity, says Sheikh Hasina National Burn and Plastic Surgery Institute Assistant Professor Ashraful Haque who heads a team carrying out research on Covid vaccines.

While conducting antibody titers they found that vaccines produced with mRNA technology provide better protection to those with immunocompromised health.

“All the four vaccines administered in the country so far are effective. The SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus, hence, mRNA vaccines provide more safety to the human cells,” he said.

According to Haque, providing Pfizer as a booster dose makes more sense. Moreover, they also found that the vaccines work better within three months of the second dose administered.

He says providing a booster dose is much more logical even though the government is yet to vaccinate 80% of the total population.

Vaccination is key

Haque said that they have found several people who got Covid-19 despite being vaccinated. Among those who received the mRNA (Pfizer, Moderna) vaccine, their antibody levels were 18 or higher.

In case of other vaccines, especially AstraZeneca, antibody levels reach up to a maximum of 12 or 14.

However, achieving super immunity through infection is not a possibility as there still remains as infected people still remain at death risk.

“What people have to do is not to be infected. Follow the health rules,” he advised, adding that as the virus has changed its genomic character with the new Omicron variant, people with flu-like symptoms should also be tested.

Public health expert and Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) Advisor Dr Mohammad Mushtuq Husain echoed and called on the government to speed up the inoculation process.

Till now, 70,515,422 people have received at least a single dose of the vaccine. Among them 48,695,003 received second doses as well.

It has lessened the number of hospitalizations and severity of the infections that provide better scope for the health care to tackle the emerging situation, Mushtuq said.

Besides, they need to ensure that every person from every remote and disadvantaged area should get the facilities to rest even when there might be a spike of the infection, he added.

He recommended making quarantine mandatory for the travelers, isolations for the infected even in the remote area have to be ensured.

The IEDCR advisor also suggested that the underprivileged be provided with food and other staff incentives for the treatment period by the local government during these times.

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