By Doctor Costas Costa.
I recently had an article on COVID-19 placed on Facebook. I was surprised at the amount of negative feedback it attracted from people with strong anti-vaccine viewpoint. It’s the first time in my career I’ve seen such a push back to my medical advice.
People are anxious about the new vaccines and I get that. It is a new technology. The nature of the beast. There are rare but major side effects. Where is the long-term safety data?
Genuine community concerns are also being whipped up by a polarising political fear campaign by anti-vaxxer conspiracy websites. On top of this, there is mixed messaging by government and authorities, fueling vaccine hesitancy.
This all comes at a time of a much more contagious and equally virulent Delta variant – now circulating through all of Sydney and New South Wales (NSW) and spreading to the rest of Australia. And not just affecting older people. Half the new cases in NSW are now under 19 – and half of those are under 9 years.
COVID-19 is a particularly nasty, and mainly respiratory, illness. It has been likened to glue getting stuck in your throat and then spreading to your lungs. In that context the Delta variant is described as a super glue.
The disease is usually more serious in the unvaccinated and older people or those in poor health. It attacks the lungs, thus suffocating its victims. If you suffer serious Covid disease, you could end up on a ventilator for up to 5 or 6 weeks – if an ICU bed is available. Alone with the dedicated medical staff.
90% of people in Sydney ICU are unvaccinated. The other 10% have had only one jab – not fully vaccinated. So, for now in Australia, this has become a pandemic of the un-vaccinated.
Simple humanity requires us to ask, who is behind the anti vaxxers and conspiracy theorists and is there any truth in what they are saying?
The anti-vaxxers use methods that are particularly misleading. They hide behind fake science and made-up experts – but a simple Google search, both the website and “the expert”, are discredited or very outdated.
While the majority of Australians are trying to do the right thing and follow the science, there is still a large number of undecided or vaccine hesitant in the community – including within the health professions.
They are easy prey of the radical anti-vaxxers who are emboldened, again via social media, including aggressive street demonstrations.
The anti-vaxxers claim you “don’t need the experimental vaccine”* because there is medical treatment if you catch COVID-19. The truth is we do NOT have a direct treatment for any virus – and that includes Covid-19. Viruses have no cell wall and are thus unaffected by antibiotics.
Hydroxy-chloroquine has been discredited. In southern states of US, authorities are inundated with calls about accidental poisoning with the anti-parasitic drug, Imervectin, where people are convinced to take it as prevention. Monoclonal antibodies are now available. These may be effective albeit untested on Delta, and are high cost.
Doctors currently support COVID-19 infected cases with fluids and aspirin, or dexamethasone to treat massive post viral inflammatory changes. If you get very sick, you get put on a ventilator (if there is a free bed). The rest is up to your body. Or you are advised to stay home and wait it out in isolation.
On Tuesday, a 30-year-old woman positive for COVID was found dead at home.
The best treatment we have for COVID-19 is prevention- and the best prevention is the vaccine (together with other preventive measures – such as masking, isolation of contacts, periodic lockdowns, good ventilation, and purpose-built quarantine centres).
Although people worry about the new vaccines being “too strong”, the fact is that all respiratory vaccine products display waning immunity, added to the problem of immune evasion by new variants such as Delta. Especially in older age groups it can fall to below 50%.
In Israel, the US and in parts of Europe they are now starting on the third jab -only 6 months after the second, to increase vaccine effect back to 90%. A sad and dangerous situation for all of us, when you consider high risk groups in poor countries are yet to receive their first jab and that we have to have another jab!
So, the question being pondered by the unvaccinated is who are you going to trust in making a complex health decision where the ultimate price may be your life, the life of a loved one – or loss of lifestyle due to the new case numbers remaining high?
Big Pharma that is profiteering? The government whose very survival now tied to high vaccination numbers. The anti-vaxxer extremists? The GP with a fridge full of AZ? No wonder Australians now increasingly turn to their community leaders and the respected independent experts.
It is of course everyone’s right to refuse the vaccine – and we know from studies that 10% of the population will absolutely refuse any vaccine.
If you choose to stay unvaccinated then you should logically self-isolate indefinitely at home – for your own safety and the safety of others. Logic would say stay away from airlines/ airports, from indoor sports events, theatres, restaurants and public transport. But the unvaccinated could justifiably argue, so should the vaccinated – as vaccine effect can fall to 50%
At least, we could ask you to please stop circulating those anti-vaxxer videos on social media or at least do a Google search and avoid re-posting anything from a discredited anti science and anti-vaxxer conspiracy source. Otherwise, you are doing yourself and your friends a great disservice.
The medical advice is to get vaccinated – because it will protect you somewhat, and reduce the spread of the disease somewhat, and get back to normal life, somewhat. But we need to be straight with people. Vaccination won’t fix everything. It won’t stop you catching or passing on the virus to others.
It won’t even guarantee you not getting very sick or even dying of COVID-19. But it should reduce your risk of serious illness or death. And for the public health system, it will mean you are 10 times less likely to get hospitalised. And 50% less likely to pass it on. Together with the other public health measures with which we now very familiar, these imperfect vaccines offer us some protection and chance of some return to normality.
For now, the simple message should be that vaccination is a part of the way forward. We have to pass through that door. But what lays beyond is yet to be written. The only thing we are sure of is that it will not look like what we had before. But we need to get through that door.
The ancient Greeks had a saying: He whom the Gods would destroy, they first make crazy.
To us, in the mainstream medical profession, refusing the vaccine without good medical reason, is crazy.
In the end, it’s your choice. But who in their right mind wants to live (or die) alone?
Dr Con Costa OAM is a GP and Public Health Physician based in Sydney. He has no shares in Pfizer, Az, CSL or any undeclared private interest in vaccination or pandemic response.
*On Tuesday, it was announced that the US FDA has fully approved the Pfizer vaccine as a preventive treatment for COVID-19 in over 16-year-olds.