To fight the misinformation surrounding the Covid-19vaccine, we gathered a panel with some of the best specialists from our Medical School who, in a videoconference open to the whole community/society, answered the main questions about the vaccine.
The session had more than 200 participants and was moderated by Professor Joaquim Ferreira. It had the participation of Professor Fausto J. Pinto, Professor Ricardo Mexia, Professor Cristina Sampaio, Professor Luís Graça, Professor Thomas Hanscheid, and Professor Emília Valadas.
The Talk started with the presentation of data about Covid-19, namely, the fact that the disease is the 4th cause of death in Portugal and the 2nd in the United States of America, by the Director of our Faculty, Fausto J Pinto, who made a point of justifying the reasons for the vaccine to be the right way to attain group immunity.
Then, Professor Ricardo Mexia, who started by presenting a historical perspective on group immunity, introduced us to the calculation formula for it, inserted in the reality of our times.
Professor Cristina Sampaio presented solid arguments about clinical trials, defending their legitimacy, in order to reduce the impact of speculations about the vaccination plan, giving the guarantee that “stages were not skipped (…) The main cause of the rapidity is that RNA technology [discovered in the 1960s] was available, and the speed of clinical trials is due to a substantial injection of funding, never seen before; and the very circumstance of Covid-19, which is a rapid disease”.
She was followed by Professor Joaquim Ferreira, who explained what the clinical trials taught us. These trials told us that hydroxychloroquine was not effective in treating Covid-19, mentioning the “positive history of dexamethasone”, as it proved“ effective in treating some patients with Covid-19”. The drug “Remdesivir” is, in the Neurologist's opinion, a “more complex matter (…) but even if it is effective, the magnitude of the effect is minimal and, in this sense, we are limited, so there is a need to explore other alternatives, namely vaccines”.
Talking about how these vaccines work, Professor Luís Graça explained how the immune response works in viral infections, as well as the action of T and B cells, and vehemently detailed the process of producing antibodies against Sars-Cov-2, arguing that the main objective of a vaccine is "to create protective antibodies at the first infection".
Professor Thomas Hanscheid, Professor of Microbiology, continued the debate by bringing up the topic of virus mutations and whether or not they can undermine the effectiveness of vaccines. For the specialist, the answer is clear and objective: the mutations are normal behaviour of viruses and this last mutation, first identified in the United Kingdom, only makes the virus more infectious/contagious. According to the microbiologist: “The fact that it is more contagious forces us to follow the example of Israel and vaccinate everyone, even faster”, in order to stop “this exponential increase” and prevent further contagions and deaths.
But who should, and should not, be vaccinated after all? And when can we stop wearing a mask? Professor Emília Valadas answered categorically: "Everyone!". Exceptions exist and apply "to children under 16 and to very rare and particular situations", that is, "to a small group of people regarding whom there is doubt about the effectiveness of the vaccine". "The elderly and the immunocompromised, although less efficacy is expected, are not groups that should be excluded". Regarding the administration of the vaccine to pregnant women, Professor Emília Valadas understands that “it is cautious not to recommend” vaccination in this specific case, and in breastfeeding situations there is, to date, no evidence to support the same principle. Regarding the use of masks, Emília Valadas stated that it is a habit to maintain “as long as the situation is not resolved”, even if “they are not magical”, they are an essential measure in combating the spread of the virus.
With Covid-19, societies around the world have been victims of another pandemic, the “disinformation pandemic”, a name given by Professor Fausto J. Pinto to the fake news phenomenon, whose rate of contagion is indeed alarming, stating that "if it weren't tragic, it would be comical".
The Professor closed the FMUL Talks with an analysis of the reality "that has created more anomalous situations in recent times", triggered by "protest groups based on ignorance". And the consequences of what he considers to be "a malignant disease" can be "dramatic", guarantees the Professor. In a time of “maximum containment”, Fausto J. Pinto defends that all the efforts and resources available must be committed, with a view to “massive vaccination”, especially at a time when the virus is attacking with strength.
If even with a “brief” summary of the videoconference you still have doubts about the importance of vaccination, we invite you to view FMUL Talk in full here.