Now fully vaccinated, we can return to some normalcy in life
Apart from fleeing the municipal mayhem, water crises and the howling wind that takes all the pleasure away from living at the seaside, one of my favourite benefits of relocating from Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape to Tshwane in Gauteng has been joining a Sunday morning hiking group comprising women of all ages and professions. We call ourselves Dassies and Donkeys because some of us are like those pesky rock rabbits who bound over boulders and cliffs without a sweat, while others (I’m in this category) kind of slowly amble along the mountain paths of Faerie Glen and Groenkloof or Moreleta Park, shooting the breeze and getting free therapy from the guffaws and hee-haws.
When it struck in March 2020, Covid-19 robbed us of our weekly commune with nature and each other. We were cautious, some of our members had comorbidities like diabetes, others were over 60 and were high risk. When the first wave subsided and the harsher lockdowns eased we were all thrilled to escape our screens and home offices, put on our walking boots and masks and explore the great outdoors.
But it was the third wave of Covid that hit us like a tsunami. A few days after a particularly therapeutic walk up and down the hills at Wolwespruit, one of our friends informed us that she had tested positive. None of us who walked with her was infected, but the Delta variant was on a rampage in Gauteng and many others in our group and our families were infected, including my 10- and 15-year-old sons.
Everyone recovered, we were all relieved, and slowly but surely the promise of vaccines lifted our spirits. We had age-envy as the sixtysomethings shared their vax shots on our WhatsApp group. Slowly but surely the rest of us have waited out our 42 days and are waiting out the two weeks after our second jabs. But our tribe was not left unscathed by the random swings of the treacherous scythe of this virus. In early July, we heard one of our members who guffawed with the Donkeys and had us in stitches as she huffed and puffed up the hills, was in ICU with Covid. In late August she lost the battle. On 9 September it was two weeks since I received the second shot of the Pfizer vaccine and I feel deeply saddened that my hiking friend did not get this chance at semi-normalcy that I have been afforded.
I know what I am writing will lead to several complaints from those who erroneously believe Covid-19 is a hoax or a conspiracy by Big Pharma, that I am promoting the Covid death-shot and have been injected with a possible life-altering RNA therapy without proper medical oversight. For the record, my life has not been altered apart from feeling a greater sense of relief and the only side effects I had from my “death-shot” was a bit of fatigue and a slightly sore arm for a day .
But these super-spreader viral storms of unscientific, unsubstantiated misinformation about the vaccines are making many people hesitant, putting the lives of others at risk. The loss of my friend and very close misses with many more friends makes it very clear to me that not having a vaccine is like playing Russian roulette because you never know how Covid and its ever-evolving variants will affect your body. You could have no symptoms, a dry throat, a cough, a blood clot in your lung, Long Covid or you could end up fighting for your last breath in ICU. Taking the vaccine is not guaranteed to save you from infection, but it stacks up the odds against you getting severely ill and dying.
The Scientists Collective, which comprises eminent South African scientists and public health specialists, has given us some hope that, if close to 80% of our adult population is vaccinated, we can be back to almost or total normal life within a year.
They argue that there is no such thing as herd immunity, just “population effective protection” from severe illness and death. It is much safer to get this protection from vaccines than from being sick with Sars-CoV-2. As they wrote in Daily Maverick: “Getting infected is ultimately inevitable if you engage with other human beings – and being vaccinated when that time comes provides you with maximal protection.”
We are far from reaching that 80% magic number. On 17 September, Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla said, so far only 11 million people (28% of our population) had received at least one vaccination, and 7.7 million (almost 20%) were fully vaccinated.
In an interview with The Conversation Africa, Ronelle Burger, one of the lead researchers of the National Income Dynamics Study Corona Virus Rapid Mobile Survey said vaccine acceptance was higher among people living in traditional settlements, among isiZulu, Xitsonga and Setswana speakers, and black respondents, but it was significantly lower among respondents living in urban formal residential housing who are Afrikaans speakers, white and coloured. It was also low among young people. Vaccine take-up is low among those who have access to mass misinformation on social media.
On Sunday morning, we Dassies and Donkeys will renew our hiking ritual. We are all fully vaccinated. We will remember the friend we lost with laughter therapy as we clamber up a footpath on a koppie. And we will celebrate every breath of life we still have. Thanks to science. And our vaccines.