BEYOND PAPER: VAX SCENE – EDUCATING THE COMMON FOLK
An interview with Vax Scene
Conducted by Hilal Khan and Adil Ali Tariq in October 2021
Hilal: So, the first question is that how and why the campaign, “Vax Scene” started? Tell us about the origin of the campaign.
Tauheed: So, we have a course for community service learning in our university. In that, we need to do a project that’s related to community service. We wanted to do something that was not only relevant but needed in the current time. So, we decided on something that was, I think, the most relevant and a hot topic of debate in Pakistani society at the time. And something that was both a scientific issue and a social issue, which is vaccination. We wanted to do a campaign that would spread awareness about vaccines, not forcing people to get vaccinated, but educating them so they can make a better and informed decision for themselves.
Adil: We have learned about the origin of “Vax Scene”. What was the main motivation behind this?
Zoha: The main motivation was basically scientific communication because people are not much aware of vaccination and its importance. They do not know how vaccines are made, how they work. And probably that’s the biggest reason why they’re hesitant to get vaccinated.
Tauheed: Another main motivating factor was the fact that we did, based on preliminary surveys, find out that the vaccination rate in Pakistan at that time was very, very low. And it was not picking up any pace. So, we wanted to do our part in speeding up the vaccination effort.
Adil: After establishing the campaign and doing the basic work, what were the difficulties that you faced while running this campaign?
Tauheed: One of the main difficulties was that with everything, we wanted to cite valid sources; with every scientific fact that we put forward or with every myth that we wanted to debunk, we wanted to put valid scientific sources, but because COVID-19 is something that was and is so new, we were having a hard time finding studies or finding extensive material on which we could base our claims or base the fact that we wanted to state. Even so, we were able to find enough literature that we were able to debunk most of the myths that people had about the vaccine.
Hilal: I have a related question about this, how hard is it to educate people about vaccination?
Tauheed: We found it hard to build initial traction because vaccination is a controversial topic. We reached out to certain influencers, to promote this for a social cause. But we found that a lot of them either didn’t reply, they didn’t care, or the ones that did weren’t exactly sure of what our message was. So, we were fighting two battles at the same time. One of trying to explain what our message was, and then also trying to explain to them what vaccines are for COVID-19 and why these vaccines are important, and why you should get your shot as soon as you can.
Adil: Was there a gap of communication between you and the people or between you and the influencers?
Tauheed: I think there was a communication gap both ways. We tried to take the approach of debunking certain misconceptions. If anyone has visited the page, they would have seen that we’ve put in myths, which are misconceptions that people hold. And we’ve opposed those with scientific facts. But in certain situations, I think people have misunderstood the concept because a few people reached out to us and they were like, “Oh, so you’re saying that vaccines do cause these problems?” And we were like, “No, no, we’re saying the exact opposite of that. We’re saying that the vaccines do not cause these problems.”
HIlal: When we educate people, some people find an excuse that they are not related to the medical field when being talked to about vaccines. So how would you explain to a layman person how vaccination works on us.
Haniya: So basically, whenever we encounter an infection or microbes attack on us, our immune system is the primary defense system against it. Once it fights that bacterium, virus, or whatever has attacked us, it develops a memory against it. So, the next time the person is exposed to the same infection, our immune system responds quickly, and in a more efficient way. What vaccines do is use the same method. And we expose the immune system to the same virus in a way that is not threatening the body, but the body does develop memory against it. So, in case you are infected with the COVID-19 virus or anything that the vaccination is against, the body already knows how to fight it, it already has memory against it. So that is what vaccinations do.
Adil: Why do you think. in your experience, people are afraid of getting vaccinated. What is the main reason behind it?
Tauheed: I think the main thing is that it’s something that people did not know and because this was an accelerated process, the approval of the vaccine was a fast track. They feel like this is some untested novel thing. “So, it’s something that came a year ago, how were they able to develop a vaccine so quickly, when it usually takes 10s or don’t 10 or 20 years?” And the answer? The answer to this is that even though COVID-19, itself is a novel virus, we have had extensive research done on similar viruses, such as the SARS and MERS virus. And more than anything for fast-tracking the vaccine process, the bureaucracy and the paperwork required are what was fast-tracked, not the science, not the development, not the clinical trials. It has gone through all the safety procedures as that of previous vaccines, in some cases even more, but I think that’s something that people didn’t understand and rightfully. It is something people needed to be educated about.
Hilal: Are vaccines 100% effective?
Tauheed: No vaccine, yet, is 100% effective. But in any scenario, getting COVID-19 after having been vaccinated is 100% better than getting COVID-19 without being vaccinated.
Hilal: Is natural immunity better than vaccine acquired immunity?
Tauheed: In certain cases, natural immunity has been shown to be better, but it requires you to be infected by the COVID-19 virus, which…I have heard…is an…” unpleasant” experience.
[Laughs all around]
Adil: Adding on, we have a typical mindset, we come across the term “vaccine” as it is a “Yahoodi Sazish”. And you people must have gone through this. What are your comments on this?
Zoha: I would want to say it is not a “Yahoodi Sazish”. Because that part of the world mass vaccinated their people.
Tauheed: We’re eight months into the vaccination process, and we are yet to see any real adverse effects whereas we have very evidently seen the positive effects of the vaccine for protection against most variants of COVID-19. So, I think that proves the point.
Hilal: So, the next question is, why are there so many types of vaccines? If the virus is one, why are there so many types of vaccines?
Tauheed: There are multiple types of vaccines because multiple companies were given the opportunity to use the existing technologies to produce a COVID-19 vaccine. So that even if one of those systems were to fail, we would have multiple fail-safes in place. Apart from that, vaccinating the entirety of the world population was the biggest undertaking that has ever that has yet been done in human history, at least in scientific history. So, to do that, it was best to spread out the effort and divide the labor as much as possible among as many companies with as many resources as possible.
Hilal: So, is there any alternative to vaccines?
Tauheed: Yes, a bottle of COVID-19….
[Laughs all around]
Adil: People say that vaccines are linked to long-term health problems such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and autism. Is that true?
Tauheed: There has been no significant scientific evidence that links any vaccine to either of these diseases, especially autism.
Hilal: Some people say that vaccines change DNA. Is it true?
Tauheed: None of these vaccines are DNA vaccines. The Moderna vaccine is an mRNA vaccine. The way it functions is that it enters your cell. And rather than going towards the DNA, it goes towards the part of your cell that is responsible for making proteins. That RNA is transcribed or translated into proteins. And those proteins are used to produce immunity against the COVID-19 virus. At no point in this process is anything integrated into the cell’s DNA.
Adil: How many doses of vaccine are advised to be administered?
Tauheed: The vaccines provide effective immunity against the virus in two doses, but if the virus is to change, the vaccine must be updated with it. That’s why there is a possibility that the COVID-19 vaccine will require a booster shot every flu season.
Adil: And can you elaborate on the usage of boosters for vaccines?
Tauheed: A booster shot has basically just the same components as a normal vaccine, its function is to rejuvenate your immune response against the virus or update it according to any of the changes that have taken place in the viruses’ structure.
Hilal: Some people say if you take a dose of vaccine for the first time, then you will need it for the rest of your life. They use the argument of polio. We still need polio vaccination for children and is it possible that we will need the vaccine for the rest of our lives?
Tauheed: The fact of the matter is that vaccine is needed as in the case of the poliovirus until the virus is eradicated, as it has been from multiple countries, which no longer needs the polio vaccination. Until COVID-19 is eradicated, it is going to be going to be present in the environment, and everyone is going to be susceptible to being infected by it. We will need vaccines to have our immune system ready against any of the COVID-19 infections if we are to encounter them.
Haniya: For example, smallpox was a worldwide problem at one time. Once vaccination eradicated smallpox, we no longer require smallpox vaccinations. So, similar would be the case of COVID-19.
Adil: What are the future plans of your awareness campaign?
Zoha: Currently, we are focusing on COVID. So, our focus right now is to keep on updating the public about different vaccines that are available, how they can get vaccinated, and the new age groups that are getting introduced to get the vaccines, like they have opened the vaccination for children above 12. What we’re doing right now is we are just trying to update the public about what’s happening.
Hilal: So how can people help you in this campaign?
Tauheed: The biggest way people can help us with this campaign is to get vaccinated. Follow our page. Disperse our message.
Adil: At the end, I would like to ask what is your message to the people about vaccination?
Tauheed, Zoha, Haniya: Get vaccinated.
Tauheed: Get your loved ones vaccinated. COVID is not fun. The sooner everyone is vaccinated, the sooner we can get rid of this illness. Don’t wait, vaccinate…
(Parts of this interview have been edited for sake of conciseness and clarity.)