By Dr Rajeev Jayadevan
Although the pandemic has caused severe suffering all over the world, there are a few positive developments in 2021. Unlike a year ago, doctors now have a clear idea about what the effective treatment strategies are, and, importantly, what are the ineffective ones. We know, for instance, that steroids are life-saving – when used in the right patients at the right dose for the right duration. We also know that when used wrongly, steroids cause more harm than good. Although a cause of anxiety last year, we know now that reinfections with this coronavirus are very rare, and that if they occur, they tend to be mild.
Among all the scientific developments since the pandemic, the single breakthrough that stands out is vaccine. A year ago, the medical fraternity was anxious about our ability to bring out a safe and effective vaccine – on time. We were concerned whether they might not be effective, we worried whether they could cause harm, and we debated the merits of the clinical trials used. It has now been over six months since vaccines were rolled out, and we are getting excellent reports about how effective they are – especially in preventing severe disease and deaths. The best part is that this applies to all mainstream vaccines.
By now, enough number of doses have been given out, that we are also reassured about vaccine safety. As with any treatment modality, vaccines too have their share of side effects, but the vast majority are limited to a couple of days of fever or body ache after the injection. Due to diligent monitoring and reporting, we are also able to notice some very rare serious events that would otherwise have been missed. Most of these are treatable when detected early. The good news is that such events are incredibly rare, their risk being minuscule compared to the number of deaths and illness prevented.
There is bound to be some reluctance to take vaccines in any part of the world, and this is irrespective of educational status. Some individuals are anxious about many things. For example, a person might hear about a bus accident and conclude that buses are far too dangerous to use. That is their individual perception and decision, which others might consider unreasonable or exaggerated. But it is important to acknowledge that we are essentially different individuals who have our own unique perspectives, prior experiences and personal fears.
It is not uncommon to be faced with contrasting pieces of information about the pandemic, about what is good and what isn’t. In such situations, the right thing to do is to decide for ourselves who we will choose as our reliable guide to health. Responsible agencies like the Government’s Heath Department, WHO, EMA and CDC are examples of trustworthy sources. While their advice would hardly seem dramatic or attractive, we can safely depend on them to lead us in the road ahead.
The best part of modern medicine is that is it is a continuously self-correcting system, always looking to learn from the experiences of the past to guide us through the future. The closest we stick to science and evidence, the safer and better it is.