The movement away from western medicine is nothing new, and over the past decade, we have seen many opt for a more holistic and natural approach to healing. However, until the recent COVID-19 vaccine debate, “anti-vaxxers” were few and far in between. It is safe to say though, that a growing number of people are now vociferously opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine.
PUBLIC CONCERNS DISRUPT VACCINE ROLLOUTS
Examining the primary reasons so many are opting to avoid being vaccinated, there are some logical and not-so-logical explanations. The more logical include concerns about potential unknown side effects, especially given the rapid development time of vaccines. Illogical reasons involve conspiracy theories ranging from tracking devices to brain control and even population control.
Taking a closer look at the history and side effects of vaccines, vaccines have been around for decades and were key to overcoming diseases such as measles and polio.
The polio vaccine (IPV), also known as the Salk vaccine, was first developed in the 1950s, and contains the killed polio virus. Rolled out in 1954, the use of the polio vaccine saw a dramatic decline from 18 cases per 100,000 people to a mere two cases per 100 000 people. Then, in the 1960s, polio drops containing a weakened version of the vaccine were developed, and could be delivered orally instead.
The MMR vaccine, commonly known as the measles vaccine, comes in two doses, with a 93% effectivity rate. Prior to implementation of the measles vaccination program, an estimated three to four million people in the United States alone contracted measles on an annual basis, of which only 500,000 were recorded with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of the recorded cases, between 400 and 500 people would pass away, 48,000 would be hospitalised and 1,000 would contract encephalitis, a life-threatening condition resulting in swelling of the brain. The widespread use of the vaccine has led to a 99% reduction in measles cases compared to the pre-vaccine regime.
Despite being proved to save lives, common vaccines are not completely without side effects, however. More common side effects of the polio vaccine, for example, include joint pain and body aches, low fever, drowsiness, and vomiting. Side effects of the measles vaccine include high fever, head cold symptoms and swollen glands. But while side effects are often uncomfortable, they are not nearly as deadly as the disease itself. Notably, there haven’t been any reported deaths from the measles vaccine, while the virus claimed 207,500 lives globally in 2019 – a 50% increase in measles deaths from 2016, largely due to anti-vaccination movements.
A report released by the NCBI (read it here) indicates that vaccination-related deaths are rare, and are often coincidental to death taking place shortly after receiving a vaccine. By contrast, a large body of evidence supports the safety of vaccines, and multiple studies and scientific reviews have found no association between vaccination and deaths except in rare cases. Nonetheless, unsubstantiated claims of deaths caused by vaccines have continued to circulate around the Internet for years.
So let us take a look at the COVID-19 vaccines in question, and more importantly how they compare to other well-known vaccines.
Use of the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines was recently suspended as a result of a potential link to rare blood clots in patients – a condition known as Cerebral Venous Sinus Thrombosis. In Norway, six people out of the 6.8 million administered doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine presented these symptoms, and one patient passed away. This means that 0.0009% of individuals experienced this possible side effect, with the vaccine’s mortality rate sitting at 0.000014%. By comparison, as published by Our World in Data as at 13 April 2021, cumulative confirmed cases of COVID-19 were 137.44 million worldwide, while deaths had reached 2.96 million – equating to 2.15% mortality rate.
The other argument against the vaccine is the short development time. But what we need to consider are the advances in technology. It took four years from initial development to widespread distribution of the polio vaccine in the 1950s – a fairly short space of time given the (very) limited medical technology available. One might even argue that given the medical advances that have taken place in the decades since then, allowing a year for the development of the COVID-19 vaccine is not short at all.
Finally, although we do not wish to spend too much time on the dynamics of the various conspiracy theories attached to the vaccine, we will turn your attention to the GPS you carry in your hand on a daily basis, or wear on your wrist. Most of us don’t even need to be tracked as we post where we are, who we are with and what we are doing on social media platforms for the world to see.
So, while receiving the COVID-19 vaccine remains an individual choice, each person needs to weigh the (factual) risks and potential benefits not only for oneself, but also for those around us.
WORLD FACES FIRST RISE IN GLOBAL POVERTY SINCE 1990
Between 05 and 11 April, the World Bank, IMF and G20 met virtually to discuss the social and economic impact of the pandemic. The economic shocks posed by the pandemic have rapidly moved to increase poverty, worsen inequality, and reverse the economic advances made in recent years. The discussions highlighted that effective vaccination programs are crucial to ensuring that these deteriorations are not seen on a sustained basis. IMF projections indicate that developing countries will face a slow and difficult recovery, as many will only be able to administer sufficient vaccines for herd immunity by 2023, as fiscal resources are near zero. The world will then see the first rise in global poverty since 1990, and the IMF indicates that 270 million people already face starvation.
Turning to geopolitics, US President Biden made a bold move on Thursday, imposing additional sanctions on Russia and expelling 10 diplomats that are alleged to be Russian spies. A further 32 individuals were sanctioned for allegedly attempting to meddle in the 2020 election. The Russian foreign ministry then noted that a response from Russia is inevitable.
Taking a look at the UK, over 100 Members of Parliament (MPs) and peers have called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impose sanctions on Chinese officials involved in cracking the whip on pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong. The PM has publicly criticised the anti-protest law, but no official action has been taken and the pressure on Johnson is now mounting.
In terms of recent market movements and activity, the euro touched $1.199 on Thursday (its highest level since 11 March) before easing to $1.197. Economic data released earlier in the session confirmed that consumer prices in Germany and France in March rose the most in over a year, while Italy’s inflation rate hit the highest level since May 2019. European Central Bank (ECB) Vice-President Luis de Guindos told the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs that the central bank will act on any “detrimental” rise in borrowing costs until the coronavirus pandemic is over. He further noted that broad economic activity should rebound strongly in the second half of 2021 thanks to vaccinations, the easing of lockdown restrictions, and monetary and fiscal policy support in both the euro area and the rest of the world.
The British pound rose above the $1.38 mark on Thursday, reaching its highest level since 07 April. The sterling was largely supported by broad dollar weakness and the prospect of a strong economic recovery in the UK. Lockdown restrictions were further lifted this week, with non-essential shops, gyms and art galleries reopening in England. Sterling reached a three-year high of $1.41 towards the end of February, as participants expected Britain’s economy to reopen quickly after its rapid vaccine rollout. However, a probable decrease in the UK’s vaccine supply in April raised doubts as to whether its government would be able to fulfil its plan to lift all restrictions by summer.
The South African rand strengthened past R14.20/$ against the greenback on Thursday, the highest level seen since 24 January 2020. The unit extended gains for a fourth consecutive session, as enhanced global risk appetite and positive domestic retail sales data boosted sentiment.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note retreated to 1.60% on Thursday – close to three-week lows. This was despite strong economic data, as the bond market stabilized after recent Treasury auctions drew strong demand given a dovish stance from the US Federal Reserve.
US retail sales jumped more than expected in March on the back of stimulus checks, while initial jobless claims dropped to a one-year low. Lifted by energy prices, the US inflation rate accelerated to an over two-year high of 2.6% in March. However, the core rate remained at 2020 levels, moderating concerns over runaway inflation.
Examining some of the data released this week:
|Forecast or ∆%
|Inflation Rate YoY MAR
|Retail Sales MoM MAR
|Initial Jobless Claims 10/APR
|Retail Sales YoY MAR
|Retail Sales YoY FEB
|Industrial Production YoY FEB
|GDP YoY FEB
|Manufacturing Production YoY FEB
|Industrial Production YoY FEB
|Gold Production YoY FEB
|Mining Production YoY FEB
|Retail Sales YoY FEB
Locally, concerns over vaccine setbacks and rising COVID-19 infections persist. However, the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) noted during its bi-annual Monetary Policy Review on Wednesday that it sees the impact of its unprecedented monetary policy stimulus peaking this year and boosting expansion for years to come. This said, the SARB also cautioned that above-inflation increases in South Africa’s electricity and water prices poses a risk to the consumer inflation outlook, and could trigger a rise in interest rates.
The soothing of inflation fears has assisted the rand to gain momentum against all major currencies, winning its battle to break below the R14.50/$ mark. Risk appetite is soaring, and the rand is currently one of the best performing currencies globally, with local yields remaining appealing to investors.
We will continue to keep an eye on US economic data, as well as local events that will impact directly on the economy such as anticipated load shedding.
The rand put on a stellar performance yesterday, gaining significant ground to start the final session of the week at R14.20/$, R16.98/€ and R19.54/£.
Written By: Bianca Botes
Citadel Global: Director