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Some Vital Information About The Coronavirus Vaccines



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.

The vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 organism that causes COVID-19 disease are now being rolled out with great enthusiasm in many countries. Any vaccine, by definition, is a biological preparation that provides active acquired immunity to a particular infectious disease. All vaccines help the normal defence mechanisms of the human body to fight infective organisms. A vaccine typically contains an organic preparation from disease-causing microorganism, or since the beginning of the 21st century, of compounds made synthetically that resemble it; the latter being formulated mostly by genetic engineering. Although most vaccines prevent people contracting the disease, some may only modify the symptoms, signs and reduce mortality from infectious agents.

There are four categories of vaccines against COVID-19 in clinical trials: whole virus vaccines, protein subunit vaccines, viral vector vaccines and nucleic acid (RNA and mRNA) vaccines. Some of them try to smuggle the antigen into the body, others use the body’s own cells to make the viral antigen. The exact ways in which these vaccines work differ somewhat but such minutiae should not be of major interest to the readership of this article. The vaccine that is currently used in Sri Lanka is a viral vector vaccine which uses a modified Chimpanzee adenovirus as the vehicle that takes the coronavirus antigen into the human body.

The vaccine that is used presently in Sri Lanka has produced some side-effects in certain individuals. These are mostly mild in the vast majority and consist of chills (feeling cold), fever, general muscle pains and pain at the site of the injection, all for just a couple of days. Most people get relief of these with simple pain-killers such as paracetamol. Very, very occasionally, there have been rather marked undesirable effects that have needed hospitalization. These too have resolved with adequate treatment and have not left any long-lasting effects. As far as we can say, some of these side-effects were mostly seen in younger individuals and this is also a well-known phenomenon recognized by the international scientific community. All in all, when all considerations are balanced, this vaccine is quite safe.

The clinical effectiveness of the vaccine used in our country is quite well established. It does prevent to a significant degree, the incidence of more severe disease in those who have contracted the virus and it significantly reduces the number of deaths. This was the primary reason to champion the vaccine as a protective mechanism against the disease.

Initially it was thought that it does not prevent susceptible individuals from getting infected by the virus but only reduces the severity of the disease, as well as the need for intensive care and significantly reduces the number of deaths. HOWEVER, MORE RECENT INFORMATION, PARTICULARLY FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM, INDICATES THAT THE VACCINE COULD PLAY A ROLE IN REDUCING THE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE CONTRACTING THE DISEASE AS WELL.

This information is still anecdotal evidence and data from personal communications. We have to wait for proven scientific evidence for it. The latest report in a preprint publication (DOI: 10.22541/au.161420511.12987747/v1), dated 24 February 2021, researchers from the University of Cambridge report that in nearly 9000 coronavirus tests done on healthcare workers in Cambridge, UK, they found that asymptomatic infections fell by 75 per cent 12 days after they got one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. There was a similar reduction in symptomatic infections. The researchers further commented that this finding is significant because it shows the vaccine will greatly reduce the spread of the virus. It was already clear from clinical trials and previous studies that the Pfizer vaccine is highly effective at preventing symptomatic infections but what was not known was whether vaccinated people might still get infected without symptoms and potentially pass the disease on to others. We are beginning to see some evidence that the vaccines may also reduce the risk of contracting the disease.

In our resplendent isle it is still very early days. We have only just started mass vaccinations. Judging by the efforts taken by the general public, they are most receptive to receiving the vaccine. Yet for all that, we do not have sufficient supplies of the vaccine to vaccinate as many as possible and to even go on to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of our entire populace to ensure herd immunity. If and when stocks are made available, the general public should have NO QUALMS WHATSOEVER to join in this fight against COVID-19 and get the vaccine pronto.

Yet for all this, ONE THING MUST BE VERY CLEARLY UNDERSTOOD. It has to be reiterated and reemphasized that, at the present time, the vaccine is not a panacea for all ills in our fight against the coronavirus. It DOES NOT give anyone carte blanche or complete freedom to act as one wishes. The vaccine does not, I repeat DOES NOT give any covidiots around unrestricted permission or unabridged power to get back to the ‘previous normal’. The advocated health guidelines MUST still be followed. This is an absolute and imperative ‘MUST’. There must be scrupulous avoidance of crowds. There must be social distancing. There must be unrestricted washing of hands and there must be wearing of masks. We cannot, I repeat CANNOT, get away from this ‘new normal’; most definitely not as yet.

Hopefully, a time may come in the future when we can tell this little blight of a coronavirus to simply ‘go to hell’. It is very definitely not time for that, certainly not as yet. After suffering for over a year, there is a glimmer of hope; there is some light at the end of the tunnel. As I have written before, Mother Nature has her own natural cycles. She will do it her way. Perhaps, in a few more months, we can look forward to the day in the future, where we can pull out the flags and the bunting to celebrate victory over an enemy that brought even the most powerful of nations to their knees. Healthy optimism, but not recklessness, is the desperate need of the hour.

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Strong on vocals



The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.



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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year



Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.



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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations



Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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