5,000,000 lives. That is the number of lives saved globally every year because of vaccines.
Vaccines played a tremendously important role in the elimination of infectious diseases such as polio, diphtheria, neonatal tetanus, etc. Polio — a disease that causes paralysis and death — wreaked havoc in the 1950s and 1960s and has now disappeared with the exception of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria (where no vaccination takes place). The same goes for diphtheria and tetanus. As Dr. Andreas Konstantopoulos (a paediatrician who has published more than 400 scientific papers, has served as President of the World Paediatric Society, has served as President of the European Paediatric Society and is still President of the Greek Paediatric Society) describes: ‘In the early 1970s I had the unpleasant experience of seeing 23 children dying from diphtheria at the Children’s Hospital Agia Sofia’.
Then vaccines came majorly into our lives and literally saved them. As a result, for many years we managed to control the existing pandemics and stay almost free of new ones. Some smaller epidemics did break out, but they never really spread like the COVID-19 one. This is the reason why people do not remember these ‘old’ diseases, they are not ‘afraid’ of them and out-of-ignorance do not properly evaluate the usefulness of vaccines. Young doctors have never encountered these diseases mentioned above as they have now disappeared in most European countries and in the U.S thanks to vaccines.
The new COVID-19 vaccine is 95% effective. This means that 95% of the vaccinated population will not get sick from the virus. It was designed on a fast-track pace for three main reasons:
1. Biotechnology has improved significantly in the last years. Because of these advances scientists could literally ‘win time’ and have a head start on the vaccine design (want to know more details about the technology behind this new and the older vaccines? Read more here)
2. The genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was publicly available very soon and was immediately compared with the already known sequences of SARS 1 (from 2003) and MERS (from 2012) and
3. Last but not least, the funding support for a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 was huge (from governments, organizations and universities). More than 120 platforms participated in the research and design of this vaccine, while only 2–6 pharmaceutical companies participated in the design of all previous vaccines and the companies were mostly based on their own funding.
10 years ago a group vaccination for cervical cancer (HPV) took place in Australia and Canada during which fainting episodes were observed in some adolescent girls. Anti-vaxxers found then an opportunity to accuse the vaccine of causing convulsions, epilepsy and heart problems. This was misinformation and misinterpretation as it was later shown that these individual cases were simple fainting episodes caused due to fear of needles and had nothing to do with the vaccine per se. The girls happened to get vaccinated as a group in the same room. When one girl fainted, the others around her were emotionally affected and some even fainted. Nevertheless, it took 2–3 years to convince people of the safety of the vaccine.
The actual side effects of the vaccine are insignificant and consist of local pain, redness, malaise, headache (and possible allergic reaction), lasting 1–3 days, as is the case with all routine vaccines. Allergies, as it results from data coming out of the millions of SARS-CoV2 vaccines that have been administered worldwide in 20 days of vaccination, amount to 1 in 400,000 to 500,000 vaccinations, occur within 15–30 minutes after the injection and are treated by the doctor. This is why it is recommended that vaccines be given by doctors. For example, some pediatricians have in the past observed allergies to the older measles vaccine, so it is recommended to keep children in the doctor’s office for 20–30 minutes after vaccination in order to treat possible allergies.
The public should be informed by the specialists ONLY (such as pediatricians, infectious disease specialists, pathologists, pulmonologists who used the pneumococcal vaccine, as well as gynecologists who have vaccinated young girls with the HPV vaccine).
The take home message as stated by Dr. Konstantopoulos: ‘Vaccines save lives; they are very effective and without particular side effects as long as they are given by the right people. BEWARE of FALSE NEWS in order to get the vaccine working’.
The question each and every one of us should pose to themselves is the following: Does it make sense to focus on individual allergic episodes out of million cases with no reaction to the vaccine or is it wiser to see the wider image? Which is the wider image? Simply that the more people that get vaccinated, the faster this deadly pandemic will be in control and the sooner we will be able to have ‘back’ a life with less fear and anxiety.
A happy 2021 to all my readers! Stay healthy and check your sources :)
- Dr. Andreas Konstantopoulos
- Hellenic Paediatric Society
Disclaimer: In science, like with most aspects of life, the concepts of the ‘absolute truth’ or the ‘absolute untruth’ do not really exist. This is why I put the word ‘truth’ of the title in quotation marks. Vaccines have undoubtedly saved lives. Nevertheless, only the future and the systematic collection of data will allow us to reach even more solid conclusions regarding this new vaccine. In the case of COVID19, the pandemic has remarkably changed our lives and the new vaccine is — at the moment — the most promising solution.