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Anti-vaxxers exploiting Delta variant to fuel jab apathy

By Sigomba Ramadhan Omar| August 23, 2021

Editor’s note:

It’s not that the jab is ineffective against the Delta variant. The problem is that 98% of people haven’t been vaccinated. So the fourth wave will be worse for Kenya, and other countries where people remain unvaccinated. Real-world data suggests that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is initially 92% effective against hospitalisation after 2 doses.


 

 

Throughout the pandemic, Covid-19 sceptics have exploited misinformation and misrepresented official reports to undermine confidence in vaccines and restrictions. 

Their new battlefront is the highly contagious Delta variant. 

Misleading information has swept across social networking platforms to falsely imply vaccines are ineffective against the variant. 

On August 6, 2021, Citizen TV shared on Twitter a syndicated health story from the UK-headquartered Reuters news agency with a repackaged titled ‘Vaccines may not stop Delta variant.’ (The original title for the story published on Reuter’s website reads “Early signs COVID-19 vaccines may not stop Delta transmission, England says”).

It set off a chain of reaction with many questioning the point of vaccination under the post. 

Many users jumped on the confusion to push the false narrative that vaccines do not work against the fast-spreading variant. 

A screengrab of comments expressing doubt on vaccination.
A screengrab of comments expressing doubt on vaccination.

 

The report, quoting scientists at Public Health England, was however speaking about the transmission of the variant. 

It said there were early signs that people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 may be able to transmit the Delta variant of the virus as easily as those who have not. 

“Vaccines have been shown to provide good protection against severe disease and death from Delta, especially with two doses, but there is less data on whether vaccinated people can still transmit it to others,” an excerpt read.

A few weeks earlier on July 5, the Daily Nation newspaper claimed in a front-page headline that ‘AstraZeneca vaccine works against Delta Variant but not Alpha.’

 

In a swift rejoinder, Amref Health Africa CEO Dr Githinji Gitahi — a commissioner with Africa Covid-19 Response – refuted the claim. He cited an article from the medical journal Lancet saying, “both vaccines (AstraZeneca and Pfizer) are effective for both alpha and Delta variant but a little less effective on the latter.”

The local daily has since corrected the online version of the story.

Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) deputy director professor Mwatilu Mwau has dispelled the narrative that some vaccines are infective against the notorious variant.

“Vaccines might not be perfectly effective against all variants but they are significantly effective against all of them including Delta,” he said.

Professor Mwatilu affirmed that “it is false that vaccines work only against a particular variant and not against other variants.”

Citing a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, Professor Mwatilu said that two doses of any of the approved vaccines are enough to offer protection against the Delta variant.

The study, however, outlines that the Delta variant is slightly less susceptible to neutralization than the original strain.

“But most convalescent serum samples and all vaccination serum samples showed detectable neutralization activity,” writes the American Society for Microbiology. 

Researchers have concluded that mRNA vaccines are effective against the Delta variant. 

Delta Alarm

The Delta variant was first detected in India where it began circulating around April. It is now present to varying degrees in at least 100 countries, including Kenya, where it has spread its foothold to become the dominant variant. 

The World Health Organisation describes the variant as “fastest and fittest”.

Compared to other strains, various studies have outlined that Delta variant’s symptoms differ but are not any severer. 

“Fever, headache, sore throat and runny nose are common symptoms, while cough and loss of smell are not,” writes the American Society for Microbiology.

There is no data in Kenya showing to what extent the Delta variant is responsible for the Covid-19 cases in Kenya but Professor Mwatilu Mwau confirmed that the Delta variant is now dominant in Kenya.  

“We have not yet done any survey to say Delta variant is responsible for a certain percentage of the Covid-19 cases in Kenya at the moment but it is roughly around the US’ rate,” he said by phone. 

Delta variant accounts for more than 80 per cent of Covid-19 cases being reported in the United States according to the Wall Street Journal. 

The spike of Covid-19 cases being linked to Delta variant has nothing to do with vaccine efficacy but another major factor like low vaccination rate according to Professor Mwatilu. 

“Most people infected with new cases of Covid-19 Delta variant are unvaccinated,” he said.

In Kenya, a country of 52 million people, less than two per cent of the population at a paltry 1.9 million people have been vaccinated, according to government figures. 

The Director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr Rochelle Walensky cautioned that the spike of Covid-19 cases “is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

KEMRI Deputy Director Professor Mwatilu, however, says that the highly infectious Delta variant can be transmitted to anyone whether vaccinated or not.

“If fully vaccinated people contract Covid-19 (Delta variant), they have very minimal chances of being hospitalized or even die of Covid-19 complications,” said Professor Mwatilu.