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COVID vaccines and curse of disinformation and misinformation

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by Dr B. J. C. Perera 

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL) Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In an article in The Island newspaper, titled “COVID-19 VACCINES FOR CHILDREN: THE LATEST MEDICAL INFORMATION” published on 10th January, 2022, I have mentioned in passing some of the bits and pieces of disinformation and misinformation regarding some of the side-effects that are claimed to occur after the COVID vaccines. In this article I intend to deal with more of the scientific information that debunks some of the disinformation and misinformation propagated to discourage people from taking the COVID-19 vaccines by many sources, as well as by the confirmed antivaxxers.

There were some apprehensions expressed in some quarters about mixing up of different vaccines for the booster dose as several different vaccines have already been used in Sri Lanka for the first and second doses. When the identical vaccine to the one used for the first and second dose is given as a booster dose, it is known as a homologous booster while a different vaccine that is used for the booster dose is referred to as a heterologous booster.

In a research paper published in the reputed New England Journal of Medicine quite recently, both homologous and heterologous booster vaccines had an acceptable safety profile and were immunogenic in adults who had completed a primary two-dose COVID-19 vaccine regimen at least 12 weeks earlier. The increase in the pre-booster levels of both binding and neutralising antibody titres following the boosters were similar or even greater after heterologous boosting than after homologous boosting. In fact, the reactogenicity was similar to that described in previous research evaluations of mRNA-1273 [Moderna], Ad26.COV2.S [Johnson & Johnson–Janssen], and BNT162b2 [Pfizer-BioNTech] vaccines and did not differ between heterologous and homologous boosters. These results totally justify the blanket usage of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as a booster dose in Sri Lanka.

There is a generally circulated argument that a booster dose is not necessary and may even cause some harm. This is a complete fallacy. We know for sure that the immunity tends to wane off, starting from about four months after the second dose of the initial primary regimen. The booster dose is given to increase, augment and improve the immune status against COVID-19. In a very recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), in a single centre in Israel healthcare workers who were previously vaccinated with a two-dose series of the Pfizer-BioNTech BNT162b2 vaccine, administration of a booster dose, compared with not receiving one, was associated with a significantly lower rate of infection by COVID-19. The results of the study tend to suggest that receipt of three doses of mRNA vaccines, relative to being unvaccinated and even to the receipt of just two doses, was associated with protection against both Omicron and Delta variants. However, the results showed less protection for Omicron than for Delta. One significant finding in this study is the fact that after the booster dose, there was protection against the recipients actually contracting the disease as well. Most definitely, this is excellent news.

As of now, there seems to be considerable reticence and reluctance on the part of younger members of our populace, especially the young male adults, to take the booster dose of the vaccine. Apparently, this is due mainly to various messages being given for public consumption through nebulous channels of communication including the social media, regarding the booster vaccine causing problems with reproductive health. For any human being, reproductive health is something quite precious and any suggestion of interference with reproductive abilities is likely to have an abiding effect on the inner self of most people. One such rumour is that the booster dose could produce infertility or sub-fertility in the recipients and the other is that the booster interferes with sexual prowess of individuals, especially males. We can now say, on good evidence, that there is no scientific basis for either of these contentions.

Vaccination against COVID-19 did not affect fertility outcomes in patients undergoing in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), according to a study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology. Researchers from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, USA, compared rates of fertilisation, pregnancy, and early miscarriage in patients of IVF (“test tube baby”) procedures in those who were vaccinated against those who were not vaccinated. IVF patients who had received two doses of a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine had the very same outcomes as non-vaccinated patients. This is a large study to review fertility and IVF cycle outcomes in patients who were vaccinated. The study found no significant differences in response to ovarian stimulation, egg quality, embryo development, or pregnancy outcomes between the vaccinated, compared to unvaccinated patients. The researchers concluded that the findings that vaccination had no impact on these outcomes should be reassuring to those who are trying to conceive or are in early pregnancy. IVF procedures are carried out in an artificial scenario and if vaccination has no effect in such situations, there is no real reason to believe that it will be any different when fertilisation and pregnancy results from the natural process of reproduction.

COVID vaccines and curse of …

Many young people, especially males, believe that it is sex and sexual prowess that makes the world go round. If there is anything like a COVID vaccine that is even remotely connected to a disturbance of reproductive aspects of manhood, they will run even several miles to get as far away as possible from a COVID Vaccination Centre. As medical professionals we can understand the psyche of these young people quite well. However, we need to look with a jaundiced eye at the anti-vaxxers who have capitalised on these totally unfounded fears of young people.

Does the COVID vaccine of any type interfere with sexual prowess, fertility and ability to reproduce? Let us look at the evidence. None of the manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines have listed any issues related to sexual health, erectile dysfunction, impotence or infertility in their reports. The clinical trial data from the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines show that the shots may cause pain or swelling where you received the vaccine. Other side effects can also include nausea, vomiting, headache, chills, fever etc. But there is no evidence suggesting that COVID-19 vaccines can cause any damage to the reproductive systems in both males and females.

Additionally, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) has not released any information that links COVID-19 vaccinations to sexual problems. The VAERS system is a national tool that monitors adverse reactions to all vaccines in the United States of America. Raw data is available to the general public and a summary is reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Currently, the CDC is monitoring several possible complications of COVID-19 vaccines and will continue to look at all aspects of these problems.

Can the COVID-19 vaccine affect sperm count or male fertility? At this time, there is no evidence suggesting that COVID-19 vaccines can impact the sperm count. Two small studies looked at sperm counts following COVID-19 vaccination. One study from the University of Miami examined sperm counts before and after COVID-19 vaccination. The study looked at both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and found no differences in sperm production. Another study, that has not yet been published, showed the same results. The CDC also states that COVID-19 vaccination is safe and does not affect fertility in males, or even females for that matter.

Yet for all this, there is growing evidence that COVID-19 infection and some types of disturbances of sexual prowess are related. This is a crucially important aspect of this controversy. COVID-19 DISEASE is now well known to cause sexual dysfunction in males as a manifestation of the ‘Long COVID Syndrome’. As to the possible effects of the disease itself on females, we do not have sufficient evidence at the present time. The bottom line for males is that if you get the disease itself, you are more at risk of being subjected to all these sexual disturbances. For the millions of young Sri Lankan men who remain unvaccinated, you may want to again consider the consequences if and when this highly aggressive virus finds you.

One reason for vaccine hesitancy is the perception among many that COVID-19 shots might affect male fertility. Global research does not support this contention. There is no evidence that the vaccine harms a man’s reproductive system. But ignoring the vaccine and contracting COVID-19 very well could do just that.

The clarion call of the hour for the people of our country is to take the vaccine, regular doses as well as the booster. In addition, the time-tested manoeuvres such as avoiding crowds, keeping the requested distance from people, wearing a face mask properly and washing of hands regularly, should be continued as our contribution to the community preventive efforts. In the light of all these scientific connotations, there is no doubt at all regarding the absolute necessity to take the booster doses of the available vaccines. If we are to defeat this blight of a virus, it is essential that at least 70 per cent or preferably 80 to 90 per cent of the population is adequately vaccinated. We have good evidence that after two doses of the primary vaccination regime, the immunity against all forms of the virus causing COVID-19 tends to wane off, starting from around four months after the second dose. The booster doses have been very clearly shown to uplift and enhance the immune status of the recipients quite rapidly.

The take-home message from all this validated information is the advice to just disregard all the negative publicity conjured up by the anti-vaxxers, especially in the social media, and just take into account only proven scientific evidence.



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Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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