Head of Virology in the School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Nokukhanya Msomi, says the COVID-19 vaccine will not only save lives but livelihoods too.

Msomi was addressing a webinar over concerns around the pending national vaccination drive against COVID-19, and conspiracy theories around 5G networks and their impact on the virus.

There are currently 66 000 active COVID-19 cases in KwaZulu-Natal, of the over 206 000 active cases nationally.

Dr Msomi says that once most people are immunised the chain of transmission will be broken.

Msomi and KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu went to great lengths to dispel myths around the vaccine and the pandemic.

Msomi says vaccines have been the cornerstone of viral infection control for decades.

“We have seen through early phase studies that these vaccines are safe. Any vaccine may cause some sort of undesired effect. What has been observed in currently existing vaccines is that there are short-term mild reactions like pain around the site where the vaccine was inoculated, a transient fever like observed on a baby after receiving their inoculation that they are a bit groggy that day and then they are fine after that because the immune system is responding to an allergen.”

She says the ultimate goal of the vaccine is to achieve what scientists have been calling “herd immunity” – where the majority of the population are vaccinated and therefore, the burden of the virus reduces.

“Vaccinations not only protect the individual who is vaccinated, but the more people are vaccinated the more protection is conferred to the entire community. So, we get both individual and public health benefits. And we know that precedence has been set to this. We know that smallpox has been eradicated from the face of the earth and we no longer need to vaccinate from smallpox because of a successful vaccination programme.”

Simelane-Zulu was quick to dismiss recent conspiracy theories around the impact of 5G networks on the virus. Three telecommunications network infrastructure towers were torched and destroyed in Durban earlier this month allegedly over claims that the 5G towers cause people to get COVID-19.

Simelane-Zulu says the spreading of such misleading information is a punishable offense.

“Viruses cannot travel on radio waves or mobile networks. We request that our people when then they get the information they are able to sift or find facts within the rubble. We are warning the perpetrators now or anyone that spreads fake news about COVID-19, (they could) face the mighty hand of the law.”

She says it remains unclear what has led to the decline in the number of active COVID-19 cases in KwaZulu-Natal in recent days. She adds that scientists are still tracking at what stage the second wave of the pandemic is at.

“The number of infections in the past 4 or 5 days has dramatically gone down. Whether this is past the peak or just a slump for a couple of days we are not sure. As soon as we have the proper scientific research we will be able to speak to that. All we know for now is that our numbers, in the past few days, have gone down, whether it’s us plateauing or we are still going to go back, at this point we are not sure.”

Referring to historical success stories of polio, yellow fever and rabies, where vaccines saved lives, Msomi believes that not only will the COVID-19 vaccine avert the risk of death and cost of illness, but will directly impact on the economy and social needs.

South Africa’s healthcare workers have been prioritised to be among the first to receive the vaccine from India’s Serum Institute later this month.