COVID-19 Pandemic and the Infodemics


The COVID-19 outbreak was like the strike of a match on a cotton field. As soon as the first case was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, it spread rapidly and engulfed the entire world. And by the time the World Health Organisation officially declared it a pandemic on 11th March 2020, thousands of lives had been lost. The latest statistics on the pandemic put the global cases of the disease at over 145 million, and about 3 million deaths. In Nigeria, it has also been a tale of woe since the first index case was reported on the 27th of February 2020 in Ogun State. So far, about 164,588 cases have been recorded while over 2,061 lives have been lost.

The massive impact of the disease on the health and the economic systems of countries around the world shows its potent and virulent nature and calls for urgent measures to check its spread. Hence, the speedy development of vaccines. From the time of the outbreak to date over 90 vaccines have been developed and 12 have received emergency use authorization across several countries. However, while some see this as a welcome development that would save lives, others see it differently. They say the development of the vaccines was rushed and so its effectiveness and safety could not be trusted.

This has given rise to other speculations, rumours, disinformation, and misinformation. The phenomenon, which has been rightly described as infodemic, has become another pandemic, causing widespread confusion and encouraging risk-taking behaviours that could defeat the fight against the disease. In fact, the world is currently battling infodemic in addition to the pandemic itself. Even before the development of the vaccines, sceptics believed COVID-19 is a lie; a scam to cajole people into taking premeditated vaccines armed with microchips or tracking devices. Some say the vaccines were developed using fetal tissue, and that they contain materials such as implants. Others went as far as alleging that the vaccines were aimed at altering deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the substance that carries genetic information in the cells of the body.

Lately, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, one of the major COVID-19 vaccines, has been linked to an increased risk of blood clot, thereby triggering another wave of infodemic. Before addressing these claims, it is important to underline the fact that by now even the most ardent sceptics have accepted coronavirus disease is real, given the glaring realities on the ground. They have seen many patients die from the disease helplessly – helplessness that has further emphasised the fact that the disease has no known cure yet.

Having established the reality of the disease, the question would be what does the world need to do to manage the situation? The simple answer is vaccination. For viral, infectious diseases, vaccination is still the most reliable prevention and control measure. A vaccine is a product that stimulates the immune system to induce antibodies that confer protection against the disease. Herd immunity, which is the protection of individuals from an infectious disease when the majority of the population is immune to it, is the answer. And the best and quickest way to achieve such widespread protection is through vaccination. Therefore, one could say the development of COVID-19 vaccines was right on point, timely and auspicious.

As for why the vaccines were developed and rolled out in record time, the answer is obvious. It was a state of emergency of a magnitude that had never been experienced before. People were dying like flies. For instance, in the US an average of more than 3,100 people died of the disease every day in January 2021. And by February 22, the country’s death toll had surpassed half a million people. The world economies were also crashing fast. Between April and June 2020, the G7 group of industrialised nations suffered an all-time contraction of 10.9%, while the eurozone saw a 12.1% fall, as the lockdown measures pushed them into recession.

These adverse, unprecedented developments were certainly enough to jolt scientists into a frenzied search for solutions. It is, therefore, correct to say the COVID-19 vaccines were developed quickly because the situation demanded prompt action to save lives and economies. And the quick action was made possible because of the scientific advances already made on vaccine development over the years. According to experts, COVID-19 is akin to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Hence, all structural features of the virus particle occur in related coronaviruses. In other words, SARS-CoV-2 is similar to other coronaviruses seen in humans, including COVID-19. This invariably means that scientists merely leveraged previous research on the subject to speed up the process of developing the COVID-19 vaccines. Moreover, we are in the era of fast-developing technologies, where sophisticated machines and equipment have been developed to save time and labour.

In terms of complaints about side effects, this cannot be dismissed completely. Mild headache and other reactions have been reported among those who have been immunised. But this is only to be expected from any kind of vaccination. Side effects are signs that the vaccine is working to stimulate the immune system.
As for the link between the vaccine and blood clots; actually, out of almost 5 million people who have received the vaccine throughout Europe, there have been about 30 reported cases of blood clot. But then, this is more of a coincidence than a result of vaccination. It has been discovered that the numbers of adverse events related to blood clots are the same in vaccinated groups compared to unvaccinated populations. According to research, blood clotting happens to around one person per 1,000 each year in Europe.

The allegation that the vaccines were developed using fetal tissue and contain materials like implants, microchips or tracking devices has also been debunked by regulatory bodies like the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). The vaccines are said to contain only spike protein, salts, sugar, etc, necessary for boosting the immune system against the virus.

Out of the 4 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines received by the Nigerian government, over 1,000,000 Nigerians including President Muhammadu Buhari, have taken their first jab. And there have not been any reports of serious adverse effects directly linked to the vaccination. If anything, there have been reports linking a reduction in COVID-19 cases and deaths to the vaccination. According to a report, Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines, in particular, have produced a significant drop in cases of severe COVID-19 requiring hospitalization. For Pfizer, the risk of hospitalization fell by up to 85%, while in the case of AstraZeneca, the risk dropped 94%.

From the above analysis, it is obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic is real and devastating and the only way out is vaccination despite the confusing infodemic.


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