“We have found that people who have been fully vaccinated – with two doses – are still very susceptible to contracting the Omicron variant of COVID-19. However, the booster vaccines have shown to have a huge effect in minimising hospitalisations and fatalities,” stated Prof. Shervanthi Homer-Vanniasinkam, Clinician-Scientist and Consultant Vascular Surgeon at Leeds Teaching Hospitals.
With Israel administering the fourth dose of the serum, on the question of the need for more boosters, she said: “Rapid production of antibodies, the first reaction to the vaccine lasts only a month to six weeks. Then the T-cell response kicks in, which extends immunity by a few months. Eventually, protection wanes and susceptibility to new variants of the virus increases. Therefore, scientists are advocating inoculating people when their immunity starts to decline.”
Commenting on how the UK has managed the Omicron variant, she responded: “Along with accelerating the booster programme, the government reinstated wearing face masks when out in public and social distancing, and made it mandatory to produce evidence of being fully vaccinated before visiting certain public venues including pubs and entertainment sites.”
Praising the vaccination programme in Sri Lanka, she said: “I have been astounded by the exemplary inoculation drive in the country – a high proportion of the eligible population has been protected. We should be very proud of this achievement – I hope that the public will appreciate the huge effort made by authorities in executing this mammoth task so efficiently.”
Pondering on whether there is vaccine equity across the world, she mentioned that “there is a global alliance scrutinising fairness in distribution and accessibility of serums. Initially, developed nations hesitated to release the extra doses of vaccines they held to countries in need. With the acceptance that unless the majority of the world’s population is vaccinated, combatting the pandemic will be impossible, there has been a change in attitude.”
She then spoke about the determined, incredible and collaborative effort across the global scientific community to produce vaccines against COVID-19, and reiterated: “I have seen a huge collective effort among many professionals from different parts of the world since the start of the pandemic – political, academic and scientific boundaries almost disappeared.”
“The sars-cov-2 virus genome was studied and related information shared openly in quite an unprecedented manner. Scientists worked tirelessly to formulate the vaccine, and manufacturers produced and transported them in large quantities around the world. Clinicians designed and implemented hundreds of clinical trials, and interpreted pilot data within a very short time span – many experts from different disciplines worked in cohesion extremely effectively,” she added.
Discussing COVID-19 transitioning from a pandemic to being endemic, Homer-Vanniasinkam averred: “The epidemiologists and modellers have certainly looked at this aspect very closely. Much like influenza, the expectation is that this disease too will become endemic given time. There is evidence that new variants of the germ like Omicron, even if [it is] highly transmissible, will be less dangerous.”
Commenting on the very emotive subject of anti-vaxxers, she opined that “enforcement through rules and regulations is not the ideal way to ensure inoculation of communities. There is a lot of mistrust and misinformation regarding vaccines in the public domain. It is best to explain the importance of being protected, backed with clear scientific evidence in order to convince the masses to vaccinate themselves.”
“Social and behavioural scientists have a vital role to play since they’re best placed to educate the general public on this subject. My final sentiment is that vaccination is an injection of hope for all of us,” she concluded.