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Interview: Clayton Gonese speaks to Dr Henry Madzorera on Covid-19 vaccines and conspiracy theories

By Clayton Gonese

Even some of those who believe in vaccines are now immersed in the deep ocean of confusion. Social media and general street conversations are punctuated with misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines. Some deliberately lie while others share information that they heard without knowing that it’s not true.

Dr Henry Madzorera was Minister during the Government of National Unity(GNU) between 2009-2013 and he is currently MDC-Alliance Secretary for Health Affairs. (Picture by AlJazeera)
Dr Henry Madzorera was Minister during the Government of National Unity(GNU) between 2009-2013 and he is currently MDC-Alliance Secretary for Health Affairs. (Picture by AlJazeera)

Most people who decampaign vaccines don’t do so because they are foolish. They are not foolish. It’s just that not only enough but correct information about Covid-19 vaccines has not yet filtered into their ears.

Some don’t even understand what’s a vaccine and how is it made. And they must not be insulted for not understanding that. If we want them to understand, then we must provide understandable information to them without sounding to belittle them.

In my quest to make sure that people get correct information concerning Covid-19 vaccines, especially from experts in health issues, l had a long but thoughtful discussion with former Zimbabwean Minister Of Health Dr Henry Madzorera.

Dr Madzorera was Minister during the Government of National Unity(GNU) between 2009-2013 and he is currently MDC-Alliance Secretary for Health Affairs. Also worthy knowing is that he’s a veteran and seasoned medical doctor. The information that he divulged during this conversation stems from his own personal opinions and don’t represent the views of any organization or hospital linked to him.

I managed to successfully ask him 24 questions and he also managed to provide very meaningful answers by convincingly buttressing his views with necessary scientific and medical analysis, especially towards some of the specious conspiracy theories that we see on social media.

It’s a long but worthy read. So just dedicate some 20 minutes to feed your mind with this knowledge. Knowledge is power, they say. If you already know everything in this article, then good for you but remember revision is powerful. So you are advised to read it.

1. So Doc, the first question which is of cardinal importance, that l would like to ask you is, what is a vaccine and how is it produced, in this case Covid-19 vaccine?

So a vaccine is a medicine essentially, that is produced and traditionally we produce it from the organism that is causing the disease that you want to prevent. So you take that organism and you kill it or if you don’t want to kill it, depending on the organism, you may weaken it so much that it can’t cause the disease and then you give it to the people, the target population in whom you want to prevent the disease.There are other things that are added to the vaccine to make it a medicine and that medicine will cause individuals to produce antibodies and to produce memory in their cells concerning that antigen so that in future when you encounter that same virus, your body will quickly recognize it. Your body will quickly make antibodies to fight it and defeat it before it multiplies and overwhelms the body.That is the essential character of a vaccine.

These days there are other vaccines that that have come up which are essentially not made from the organism itself. We have seen new vaccines like mRNA vaccines eg Pfizer and Mordena vaccines against Covid-19.

We have other vaccines where they take another harmless virus like the chimpanzee adenovirus and then they put some material in the DNA material that they would want to use to create proteins in your body. It’s complicated science but essentially you end up with proteins of the same virus that you want to create immunity against. And those proteins are important. The body will make antibodies against them and when the real virus comes, the body will react to that virus. The body already has the template of making antibodies and it will kill the virus before it multiplies to overwhelm the body.So those are the technologies in use these days.

2. So what is the main difference between Covid-19 vaccines and other vaccine that were administered prior to the advent of Covid-19?

Most of the vaccines that we have been using over the last few decades or hundreds of years were made from the simple technology that l explained at first. Whereby you you take the actual virus, in this case Covid-19 virus and you kill it. And you take those dead proteins and you put them in a vaccine and inject into people. The body will immediately recognize, in this case spike protein is our major target. You know the spike that looks like little stones coming out of the Covid-19 virus.

So when now now the actual virus comes, the body will recognize those proteins and attack the virus and kill it before it overwhelms the body. Now these days as l said, there are newer vaccines. Some of them have never been used before, like the messenger RNA vaccines that we have now. They have really not been used before. It’s new technology and it seems to be working very well. From the data that they are giving us, it seems they are very good and protective properties or what we call efficacy and their safety record seem to be reasonably good. Those are vaccines being used in modern world like America and so forth.

3. We have heard some people argue that vaccines are the mark of the beast, particularly we have men of the cloth who have relentlessly stated that vaccines will kill people in the future and there’s also the theory that Covid-19 vaccines will kill people within 2 years. How far true is that Doc?

That is not true. How can they say that? The vaccines that we are using here in Zimbabwe, let me talk about Sinopharm and Sinovac only. Those are same kinds of technologies that we have been using here for dozens of years in Zimbabwe whereby they take the actual virus and kill it to make a vaccine. In fact we have used them for polio, measles and many other diseases. We haven’t seen people dying after 2 years. So in Zimbabwe that question should not arise because we are not using vaccines from newer technologies.

But new technologies come and they will come. In fact, it’s an issue of affordability. These vaccines have been tested by the regulatory authorities. The science behind them is sound and this whole thing of saying the messenger RNA may get incorporated in the human gene and eventually cause changes in our genetic make up , that’s a lack of understanding of the human genome. There’s no way messenger RNA will go to get incorporated in the DNA of humans. It cannot happen from a purely scientific point of view. So these conspiracy theories should just be ignored.

Now men of the cloth are delving into areas that they are not qualified to go into. They don’t know the science behind these vaccines and they should avoid implicating God in lies and their lack of understanding. God understands these vaccines very well and he wouldn’t give anybody that kind of vision or prophecy which is obviously a lie.

4. I will ask much about the DNA maybe in the later part of the interview. So l understand that there are so many conspiracy theories about Covid-19 vaccines. What do you think is the main reason which culminated in the germination and eruption of those conspiracy theories?

Well, l think there’s a valid reason, l suppose, for people to mistrust these vaccines. People don’t trust those who are at the forefront of campaigning for the use of vaccines. It’s just a matter of not trusting people because of the things they have said in the past. Some of them are alleged to have said there are too many people on earth, we must get rid of them and so forth. People generally won’t trust individuals like that when they are in the fore-front of funding vaccine development and promoting vaccines. But the same people have also assisted in making sure that vaccines are available to the world like poliomyelitis, measles, BCG vaccines and so forth. Vaccines that we are using everyday and l don’t know right now why people should go haywire.

Let me address the issue of the mark of the beast. The mark of the beast is not going to come hidden behind anything. The bible doesn’t say it will be hidden and you get it by accident through a vaccine. People are going to have to choose to receive to receive the mark of the beast. That’s what the bible says. You will choose knowingly that l’m choosing to take the mark of the beast because l’m now failing to sell or buy in the market place and so forth. So regarding the issue of the mark of the beast, people must just go back to the scriptures and find out what is the mark of the beast. It’s not going to be some kind of a clandestine thing put into your body without you knowing. You will make a choice, a very informed choice to follow the beast.

5. From what you know, have other vaccines faced such formidable resistance before or it’s just Covid-19 vaccines which have faced resistance?

Oooohhh! There has been a lot of religious resistance to vaccines in some quarters.Mapostori,mapostori for example. The Apostolic sect in Zimbabwe. They don’t get their children vaccinated and that’s why we see so many of them dying of measles. And they don’t seem to care. They just make more babies. If they die, they make some more. So that resistance to vaccines and all other medicines, by the way, is not new. Now this vaccine, some people say it has been developed too fast that’s why we don’t trust it. But what people don’t understand is that work towards producing these vaccines has been going on for over 10 years since we had the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome(SARS) virus in the earlier years of this new millennium. Scientists have been trying to produce a vaccine against the SARS virus and that’s the technology they just repurposed to produce vaccines against SARS Covid 2 which is now the coronavirus or the Covid-19 virus. So l think people should realize that the only way we have ended pandemics of this nature was through use of vaccines and until we get a critical number of people vaccinated, this virus will continue to flourish among us moving from one person to another.

6. We have heard some people argue that Covid-19 vaccines insidiously tamper with people’s DNA and l know you have tried to address it it before but let me ask it again and there are some people who argue that some vaccines are being manufactured using genes of dead white children. How far true is that Doc?

The issue of tampering with people’s DNA is not scientifically plausible. So when you take messenger RNA and you inject it into people, it goes into the cytoplasm of the cell. It doesn’t enter the nucleus where you find the DNA.When it enters the cytoplasm, the body starts translating the tissue of mRNA that has been injected into you to produce spike proteins in this instance and then the body will recognize the spike proteins as foreign objects and produce antibodies against it. It never gets into the nucleus where the DNA is. So those who understand the science behind know that mRNA is a messenger that that has actually been made to produce proteins. That’s its job. When it has finished producing proteins, it gets wasted.

These laboratories keep certain cell lines which they use. A vaccine cannot go into a petri dish, it has to go into cells. It can’t multiply itself. It needs the mechanisms of a cell to multiply. So these laboratories keep certain cell lines which are known. They use those to multiply viruses so that they can make vaccines out of them.Regarding where they get these cells lines, l’m not an expert in that but suffice to say, those are just cell lines that they use to multiply viruses and make vaccines.

7. What about the theory that foreigners want to get rid of Africans so that they can come to freely take African resources after killing innumerable Africans using Covid-19 vaccines? I know you have tried to address it before but l think you can shed more light.

The honest truth is yes there are people with a big eye on African resources. It’s not a new thing. That’s why Europe colonised Africa in the first place. They wanted our resources, our land, our everything. And they continue to use different methods to colonise Africa and to get our resources, to put us under economic bondage and things like that. But as far as vaccine is concerned, l don’t think that is the intention. We also have our scientists. They should watch our back. They should take all these things to see. Otherwise we wouldn’t be buying paracetamol and antibiotics from Europe or America. And we would say these are poisons used to kill us. Yet we need those antibiotics. We get a lot of medicines, anti-retrovirals, and so forth. They can equally be poisoned to kill Africans. Why do we accept those and say we won’t accept a vaccine as if vaccine is the only possible career of a poisonous element? So l think it’s just finding an excuse for not getting vaccinated. If they are poisons in those vaccines, our scientists have an obligation to look for those poisons and tell us which one is a good vaccine. That’s the job of our regulatory authority. If they don’t, then of course we are doomed.

8. And we have our own Medical Control Authority of Zimbabwe. Does it have the capacity to rigorously test those vaccines to see if they are suitable for humans?

Well, these capabilities have levels. All l can say is yes they have some capabilities but you know they should collaborate with other laboratories. For example, if there’s something that we want to analyze and we don’t have the capability to do it, they can send specimens to South Africa to laboratories with higher capabilities. A lot of times we do that, eg when we are trying to see which strain of Covid-19 is circulating in Zimbabwe. They take the strain and send it to laboratories in South Africa with greater capabilities. It’s really an issue of the economy of the land. Research is expensive and if the country doesn’t not finance research, we will remain a little bit behind others in terms of the capabilities that we have and that’s unfortunate because we have not managed our resources well. Therefore our capability has actually gone down compared to the yester years. So we will continue to rely on others in the region and that’s okay.

9. So regarding the issue of men of the cloth, we have Emmanuel Makandiwa who has relentlessly said that vaccines are bad but l know he backtracked on his earlier or previous arguments. Some believe he was told to retract his statements. And some of his followers say, l’m not his follower, l don’t follow him but l just heard from some of his followers who say that most of his prophecies come true. And he said that Covid-19 vaccine is going to kill a lot of people. What do you think about it?

That prophecy was a stray prophecy. It’s never going to come true. That the vaccine is going to kill many people, it’s never going to come true. We would have started seeing people dying. Remember vaccination started last year in some countries around December. I know we started later on this year but in the richer countries they started vaccinating last year. We would have started seeing people die if the vaccine was dangerous.

These are the false the false prophets that we hear about in the bible. The bible says if a man prophecies something and it doesn’t come to pass, that’s a sure sign he’s a false prophet. So we are watching. We have seen all these so-called prophets of today making prophecies that never came to pass. And when they fail to come to pass, they always find a good, neatly wrapped excuse to forgive themselves for false prophecies. People are just being taken for a ride by some of these false prophets who speak when God has not spoken and that’s really what l can say.

10. And l still remember that TB Joshua last year said that Covid-19 was going to end on the 27th March 2020 but it never ended

They are the same people who prophecied that some candidate in America would win the presidency and that candidate never won but they found an excuse to explain away their misdirected prophecies.

11. If someone gets vaccinated, does it mean they won’t contract Covid-19? Because some argue that what’s the need of getting vaccinated if vaccinated people are contracting the disease, let alone dying from it?

The purpose of vaccination is so that when the virus actually comes into your body, you can kill it quickly before it causes disease in you. Our expectation from the Covid-19 vaccines is that they should prevent serious illness. They should prevent hospitalisation. They should prevent admission to the intensive care unit (icu) and they should prevent death. That’s our expectation but the virus will affect you just like a baby who’s vaccinated against measles, they will get the measles virus but they will have such mild disease that even doctors sometimes struggle to diagnose measles because the disease would be so mild. It’s just a little fever perhaps and at times little rash and nothing else. It will go away after few days. That’s what we want. That’s why we vaccinate people so that they don’t get sick but you will still get the infection but won’t get sick.

12. Some people also say that vaccines are useless because even after getting vaccinated, one will still be required or strictly obliged to put on their face masks, to sanitize and to maintain social distancing or simply put, to adhere to Covid-19 regulations. Your thoughts on that Doc?

Yeah that’s necessary right now because we have not yet vaccinated enough people to acquire herd immunity. Right now we are targeting 10 million people for vaccination in Zimbabwe but only about 1 million and a few have received their 2 full doses. So the whole population is still highly exposed. I’m vaccinated, l can still get the infection, it multiplies in me one or two days, my body takes over, produces antibodies and kills that infection, l don’t get sick but l can pass on the virus to someone else who is not vaccinated.

So this is why l wear a mask to prevent myself from passing on the virus to another person because l will not know that l’m sick, l will not know that l’m carrying the virus because l’m not sick but l can still pass it on to somebody else. That’s what we are preventing. Once we have vaccinated our 10 million people, we can throw away our masks and nobody needs to be protected from each other anymore and we live happily ever after.

13. So people are now entangled between science and religion. Some will choose to listen to religion, some will choose to listen to science. Concerning those who are going to listen to prophets, regarding the issue of Covid-19. What is your advice to them as a scientist or as a medical practitioner?

Well, l will just tell them that these prophets are not scientists. God has given people wisdom. These scientists are not from the devil. Nothing good comes from the devil. So they should know that all these medicines that they take, the paracetamol, the aspirin, all the antibiotics they take. They were produced by the same scientists who are producing the vaccines. If you start now listening to pseudo prophets for your medical advice, you are doomed.That is your fault. And we see people dying everyday because of wrong decisions in terms of whom to listen to. Let them just separate issues. Science is science and religion is religion, fullstop.

14. We are living in an epoch characterized by social media revolution. Some people easily and let me be brutally honest here. Some people easily and naively believe everything that they read on social media. What’s your advice to people concerning social media?

Social media is very good but it’s also very dangerous. It’s very good when you are spreading the correct message but very dangerous if you are spreading wrong messages. There’s no-one who supervises social media and who sees wrong from correct messages. There’s no such a captain on social media. So people must take what they see on social media with a pinch of salt and verify with experts in the various fields. Don’t just accept everything you see. Just because it’s in print doesn’t mean it’s correct. And there’s a lot of hogwash on social media right now. There are people who deliberately write false statements that they know are false but they write to mislead. These are are just sadists who don’t enjoy to see humanity living in harmony with each other.

15. It seems that now people are being forced to get vaccinated through retrenchment, not being allowed to board state transport, in other countries, etc. I don’t know if it’s currently happening in Zimbabwe. Do you think it’s good to force people to get jabbed?

No it’s not good. It’s not proper and it’s not in our constitution. The government should not force anybody to get vaccinated. The way l know Zimbabweans is that their uptake of vaccination is very good, very good when you compare with other countries. The government should not waste time talking about forcing people. And it’s too early. Right now the bottleneck, the rate limiting step is actually lack of supply of vaccines by the government.

We have long queues of people waiting to be vaccinated. It’s not the time to talk about penalizing people for not getting vaccinated because the government itself is failing right now. But after a few months, when we have finished vaccinating everybody who wants to be vaccinated, then we can look around and see who’s not yet vaccinated and why they are not vaccinated. But right now it’s too early and it’s inappropriate. It’s really illegal and unconstitutional to force anybody to be vaccinated.

16. And l’m not implying that the government is forcing people because as far as l know right now, they haven’t yet started to force people to get vaccinated

They got the ball rolling. The president himself was the first one to make a statement that the day is coming when we are not going to allow you to board our Zupco buses if you are not vaccinated. That was a wrong statement and it sent wrong signals. And that was at a time when we actually didn’t have vaccines in Zimbabwe, we had run out. So l think people should take it easy and not just copy and paste things happening in other countries that are far advanced in their programme.

17. I talked to some girls who told me that they are afraid or scared of getting vaccinated because they were told that they will become barren if they get vaccinated. Your comment on that?

No they won’t become barren. It’s a choice. You can choose to die and then you will never give birth because you are dead or you choose to take the vaccine and live. And see how it turns out in future. But the vaccine id not about causing barrenness. It’s about protecting people from Covid-19.

18. What about those with underlying medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, asthma, etc. Are they supposed to get vaccinated or vaccines will make them develop adverse side effects?

Everybody must get vaccinated. Those with underlying comorbidities like hypertension, diabetes and so forth are the ones who are supposed to get the vaccine before anyone else. Because they are more at risk of developing severe disease if they catch the coronavirus. So the only thing that they have to do is to ensure that their high blood pressure is well under control, their diabetes is well under control. If it’s HIV, let them make sure that their immune system has recovered, good CD4 count.So all the comorbidities, make sure that it’s under control and then get the vaccine. It’s urgent and important for people with comorbidities to get their vaccine now. Particularly people with diabetes, we are seeing the Covid-19 virus working through diabetes to kill our loved ones.

19. Some people feel that the procedure of all vaccines is that they must be thoroughly tested before being administered on people for a period of about 3-5 years but Covid-19 vaccines came into being within a year since the beginning of the disease. What does science say regarding that?

It is true that under normal circumstances, vaccine development takes many years and especially the testing phase of the vaccine on humans. It does take a few years traditionally. But with Covid-19, because of the urgency of the matter and because many people were dying at one time, generally the WHO and all governments essentially agreed to accelerate the phases of testing of the Covid-19 vaccine. So they ran phase one, phase 2, phase 3 in parallel. Now we are doing essentially the phase 4 trial where we are giving the vaccine to a large population and monitoring in terms of safety and efficacy of the vaccine to see if there are any adverse events. This emergency use authorization was given because of the scale of destruction that the Covid-19 virus was doing. We could not wait any longer when we have a vaccine. We will address each consequence as we go along. But we do believe that the vaccines are safe but time will tell. At least we have stopped the dying of people in mass. And that was an important goal to achieve.

20. There are also some who feel that so many people have died because of Covid-19 vaccines. Some are saying that about 6000 people have died because of Covid-19 vaccines and they are questioning why these vaccines are still being used yet they have proven to be dangerous. How many people have died of Covid-19 vaccines? Maybe you can dissect it globally, continentally and nationally

Zimbabwe has not yet published any statistics concerning adverse events following immunisation. We eagerly await for this report. The government should have given us a report long back because they have by now vaccinated over 2 million people in terms of the first dose. We should be having a good report. Globally, we know that there are some countries where they reported blood clots happening in some people because of a certain vaccine. That one particular vaccine l think caused six cases or rather not caused but it was associated with blood clots after vaccinating about 6 million people.

So when you look at it, it was like one person in a million falling sick. That’s a good record for any medicine on earth. They did investigations and l think they were not able to conclude that the vaccine was the cause of blood clots. Whatever the case might be, the number of people saved after vaccinating six million people is way, way beyond the number of people who were affected by the clots. So it is cost effective to give the vaccines. There’s no medicine without an adverse event. So l think from the data available, vaccines are very safe and they are the safest way to go. They give us a better result than leaving people to the mercy of the virus. We will loose millions if we don’t vaccinate.

21. Are vaccines safe for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers?

I think breastfeeding mothers should certainly get vaccinated. The risk of not getting vaccinated is much higher than any adverse event that we may dream of being caused by the fact that they are breastfeeding.

Now in terms of pregnant women, l’m not very sure. The government has not really pronounced itself very clearly on whether pregnant women are getting vaccinated. But l remember listening one time to one of ministry of health officials saying pregnant women can be vaccinated. That’s something we should cross-check and whenever a pregnant woman goes to get vaccinated, please declare that you are pregnant and the officers doing vaccination should be able to follow the protocols given to them by the government.

23. What is the link or nexus between Covid-19 vaccines and blood clots?

Yes blood clots were reported in a number of patients following immunisation. But l don’t think they were able to nail the vaccine as being the cause of the blood clots. A sound clinical decision was made. The incidents of of blood clots in that country, l think it was the US, were something like one in a million. When you calculate and compare with the incidents of Covid-19, you find that the benefit from vaccination far outweighs this potential causation of blood clots by the vaccine. So it was decided very deliberately to go on with the vaccination programme. It was not proven clearly the that the vaccine was really the cause of blood clots. But whichever the case might be, still vaccination remains beneficial by far compared to not being vaccinated.

24. Some news outlets are saying that a drug called ivermectin helps in preventing Covid-19. How far true is it and to what extent can people only use ivermectin instead of Covid-19 vaccines?

It is true that ivermectin has shown some very promising results in the treatment of Covid-19. There are still a lot controversies even among experts. But we are using ivermectin in Zimbabwe under special conditions. Ivermectin is for use in sick people, it can’t replace the vaccine. The vaccine is there to prevent people getting sick, the vaccine is the only thing that will get us out of this Covid-19 pandemic. Ivermectin is for short term use to keep people alive, it is for those who fall sick together with other medicines. So it cannot replace the vaccine. Long term we need the vaccine to get over the Covid-19 pandemic.

24. So l’m interviewing Dr Henry Madzorera. Dr Henry Madzorera was Minister Of Health during the Government of National Unity(GNU). And he’s a registered medical practitioner in Zimbabwe. Thank you very much Dr Henry Madzorera for your time

Thank you very much Clayton for this stimulating discussion.

Venceremos

*Clayton Gonese is a 20 year old public intellectual. He is concerned about conscientising the public on critical societal issues. He can be contacted on 0719 856 405.

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