- Dr Maganu worried that gov’t is silent on next line of regulations
- Is disturbed by loose talk of ‘herd immunity’
A former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr Edward Maganu, has expressed serious concern about the government’s recent approach and attitude to the COVID-19 pandemic regarding what will follow the end of the State of Public Emergency tomorrow.
“To be frank, I am worried,” Dr Maganu said. “To go from the current level of ‘lockdown’ to no regulations at all worries me.”
“I had thought by now the Ministry of Health and/or the Director of Health Services would at least have indicated that they would put some regulations in place under the Public Health Act. I assume we are simply going back to the situation that pertained pre-pandemic.”
He warned against pursuing herd immunity as a strategy against the COVID-19 pandemic in Botswana.
Herd immunity is an epidemiological concept used for vaccination in which a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached.
For measles, for instance, it is estimated that if 95 percent of the population is vaccinated, the remaining 5 percent will also be protected from the spread of the virus. For polio, the threshold is estimated at 80 percent.
Dr Maganu said herd immunity is usually attained when between 70 percent and 90 percent of the population is immune, depending on the transmissibility of the causative organism.
“But we cannot at this stage talk of ‘herd immunity’ in relation to COVID in Botswana,” he emphasised. “Firstly, it is still uncertain how much immunity is conferred by natural infection, especially with all these variants. Naturally infected people in our population are too few to cause herd immunity.”
“The vaccination coverage is also too small currently. In any case, how much immunity actually results from COVID vaccination is still unknown. The vaccination does not prevent infection but reduces severe infection and death. So a vaccinated person can still transmit infection.”
“If you compare with immunising diseases like measles, mumps and chicken pox, an infection by one of these diseases gives lifetime immunity. So, going back to COVID-19, the chances of acquiring herd immunity in that disease are low. As it is now, there will always be enough susceptibles to have an outbreak. In herd immunity, the idea is that there should be too few susceptibles to support an outbreak.”
Even so, Botswana is making strides in the vaccine rollout and is currently at Phase 2. At some point last year, the head of the World Health Organisation warned against deliberately allowing the coronavirus to spread in the hope of achieving so-called herd immunity, saying the idea is unethical.
Fears are that promoting the concept of herd immunity could create a misconception that Botswana will get to a stage where this will be eliminated, which is unlikely. Professionals worry that spreading the theory could dent confidence in vaccines or cause people to doubt the benefits of being vaccinated.