Twin problems: Virus’ mutations, vaccine hesitancy - GulfToday

Twin problems: Virus’ mutations, vaccine hesitancy


Image used for illustrative purpose only.

It looks like that COVID-19 has not really run its course as it has mutated nearly four times with the fourth one, the Delta variant taking further shape as Delta plus, and creating concern whether the handful of vaccines that had been developed in less than a year’s time can handle the mutations. Doctors and scientists are finding it hard to stay ahead of the curve as it were.

There is the demand that sequencing of the new strains of the COVID-19 virus must be done quickly to determine the structure of the variants, which then have to be tested against the vaccines to ensure that the vaccines can effectively defang them.

Right now, the assurance from vaccine researchers and experts is that the vaccines we have now in hand had combat the mutated COVID. Those infected even after two doses of the vaccine found that the virus did not virulent, that they did not have to be hospitalised, much less placed in an intensive care unit (ICU) and on ventilator, that the vaccine protected them from near fatality. There is no doubt that the vaccines will need to be tweaked to combat the new mutations as we go along, and the researchers are on their feet as it were.

But there is a bigger problem on hand. Even with the vaccines in hand, many of the countries in the world, and many of them that are grouped as developed are confronting the social challenge of vaccine hesitancy.

From America to Russia to Japan, the plentiful COVID vaccine supplies are sitting idle as people evade the simple that would provide them protection as well as for those around them. Even as the deadline for the Tokyo Olympic Games is drawing near, the Japanese authorities are perplexed that people are not coming forward to be vaccinated in time for the games.

In Russia, both in Moscow and in far-flung provinces, the authorities are finding it difficult to convince people to be vaccinated. The numbers are moving up slowly, and there is the realisation that convincing people on this issue is no simple task.

In America, the evidence has become clear that 99 per cent of the people who had died recently were those who were not vaccinated. But the resistance to vaccination has not lessened.

What has been termed vaccine hesitation is sociological conundrum. And it may be attributed to ignorance. Robert Pirsig in his cult book of the 1970s, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ had observed that though we live in a scientific civilisation, we are totally ignorant about science, and there is fear of science due to ignorance.

It seems that people do not understand how the vaccine helps protect the person from the virus. Perhaps no one has taken the trouble to explain to people how the vaccine works.

Scientists unwittingly behave like old shamans and tell people that they should take the medicine and it will cure them. It seems that people generally believe shamans even when they are wrong, but they are unwilling to entertain scientists who speak like shamans. This is indeed the biggest challenge: to convince people that vaccine is good for them. There is need for a hard think to find ways of communicating with people in a manner they understand and feel assured about the good that the vaccine does.

It is indeed a fact that scientists are not always good communicators. We need people who communicate well and who can convey scientific information to the people. Science communication is something that has been ignored. It is time to plug the hole.

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