BY Dr. Sanjiva Wijesinha

March is upon us and many people the world over would have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by now. As most of you would know, this disease has been caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

From the fast tracked Sputnik V vaccine that was approved for widespread use as far back as in August last year to the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Bharat Biotech vaccines rolled out in January, many countries have initiated vaccination programmes that will see a large number of people being provided with protection against this deadly disease during the course of this year.

But it’s worth knowing a few things about the COVID-19 vaccination, lest we be lulled into a false sense of security that could jeopardise the whole business of controlling the pandemic.

Being vaccinated will only protect people from becoming seriously ill if they contract the disease.

This infection can be passed from one person to another through close physical contact. So anyone harbouring the virus can transmit it to another person through touch, by coughing or sneezing on them, or handling items such as doorknobs or pens with the virus on their hands.

If items carrying the virus on their surface are touched by someone else, they too can be infected.

Contracting the virus doesn’t mean that one automatically contracts the disease. One falls sick with this infection (seriously and life-threateningly sick) only if the virus invades the cells of their airways.

Some people who pick up the virus remain well or have only mild symptoms because their own immune systems (with or without a swig of Dhammika paniya!) can deal with the virus that has entered their bodies and recover with minimal aftereffects.

It’s well-known that of 100 people who contract the disease, 80-85 will recover with no major symptoms while the rest could become seriously ill. These people will require hospitalisation and even management in an ICU – and of them, between two and four patients may die.

Unfortunately, we can’t predict which of those who are infected will become seriously ill and even succumb to the virus. Young children, and previously fit and healthy adults, as well as old people with diabetes or emphysema, have all succumbed to the disease.

So vaccination will only ensure that even if the virus finds a way to enter your body, it can’t make you seriously ill.

It follows that a person who has been vaccinated can catch the virus and pass it on to others. This is because vaccination alone can’t prevent him or her from contracting the virus; nor can it stop the virus from lurking in the throat and being transmitted to others.

So even if you’ve been vaccinated, you must not forget the simple rules of preventing transmission to others – wearing a mask; washing your hands as often as possible; and avoiding touching, hugging and coughing around others.

Those to whom you unknowingly pass on the virus may not have the protection you have. And if they’re infected as a result of it, they can become very sick… and in some instances, even die.

Always remember that vaccination alone will not protect the world against the COVID-19 pandemic. Restoring world health depends on all of us behaving in a socially responsible manner.