Updated: May 15, 2020
Welcome to part 3 of the COVID-19 series. I want to begin by thanking everyone who has sent in messages of support and encouragement about what the articles in this series so far.
The first article was about why every region in the world, and in particular Africa, needs its own unique response to COVID-19. There is a need to take caution not to merely mirror responses and policies implemented in other places without consideration of Africa’s unique context, i.e. population demographic, living conditions, the impact of on health care, food security and the economic situation. The second article was about what you can do to keep yourselves healthy and maintain strong immunity in these uncertain times. If you missed these earlier articles, you can find them on my website https://www.drkasenene.com/blog
In this third part, I want to discuss some of the common areas of question and concern regarding COVID-19 that are generating lively debate including vaccines and 5G. I want to clarify that I am not discussing conspiracy theories which can often distract from the real issue at hand and I will also share references to some of the information so you too can read original articles. Our objective is not to tell anyone what to believe but to get us all thinking and able to come up with independent, objective perspectives.
I’ve come to realise that there is plenty going on that many of us never get to know, but which perhaps we should. Sometimes we are so distracted by all the focus and attention on the news and social media that we miss the bigger picture.
The world is going through challenging times. Aside from COVID-19, there is also the growing problem of destruction to the environment, effects of global warming like floods, forest fires, change in weather affecting food production, increasing levels of global hunger, and deforestation. What is unique about all these? We humans have played a role in creating these problems. They don’t just happen; we make choices, then watch them happen. Unless we wake up and stop being selfish and distracted, this world could reach the wrong destination. Perhaps COVID-19 can help us all to wake up! But in addition, if we are not aware of what is happening, others could dictate the agenda and determine what happens to us all.
With that in mind, let’s dive into some of the common questions or debates about COVID-19.
1. Is COVID-19 real, or is it some kind of propaganda media story?
COVID-19 is real. It is a viral disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a type of virus in the coronavirus family. Other diseases that have been caused by coronaviruses include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that was first reported in 2012, and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which caused an outbreak in the early 2000s.
2. Was the COVID-19 virus made by man?
This is a very interesting question. Most scientists agree that COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is naturally occurring and originated from bats. Yet others say it is man made, either by the Chinese or the United States, in a laboratory, that somehow leaked into the open. Which of these is correct I personally don’t know, and we may never know for sure. What is clear is that:
a. Many coronaviruses occur naturally and can cause disease in animals, including rats, bats, dogs, cats, chicken and pigs2.
b. Many scientists have stated that the virus causing COVID-19 occurred naturally and is not man made. According to findings published in the journal Nature Medicine, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is the product of natural evolution1,3. The article says that analysis of genetic information from the virus causing COVID-19 found no evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory or otherwise engineered. At present most researchers strongly believe that the COVID-19 virus is not man made.
c. From analyses of the genes of the the COVID-19 virus it is suggested and probable, although not definite, that the natural reservoir of the COVID-19 virus is the Chinese horseshoe bat.
d. The way this virus moved from animal to human populations is not yet known and must still be determined4.
e. It is also known that there has been laboratory-based bioengineering (biological engineering) of coronaviruses in North Carolina, U.S., and in Wuhan, China5. In November 2015 there was a publication in the Nature Journal that was titled “Engineered bat virus stirs debate over risky research”6. It states that there was an experiment that created a hybrid chimeric version of the same horseshoe bat coronavirus which triggered debate over whether engineering lab variants of viruses was worth the risk. So, a virus that previously didn’t exist was created.
f. The U.S. government announced in October 2014 that it would stop funding new research that creates viruses that are more deadly or transmissible7 because it was not comfortable with such research at that time.
g. However, this research continued in the Chinese city of Wuhan, in a virology institute where researchers had been studying bat coronaviruses for several years.
h. Some well-informed scientists go further to say that, based on current evidence, the Wuhan Market that is claimed to be the original source of the outbreak may not have been original site nor the only source of the outbreak4,8. So where is the real source?
Those who believe the virus was created in a lab say the current COVID-19 virus leaked from that Wuhan virology lab known to research coronaviruses that affect bats. Certainly, this is not confirmed. But who can blame anyone for asking the question, What are the chances that the coronavirus causing this pandemic emerged in Wuhan, China that has a virus lab researching the same type of viruses known to infect the type of bat that is believed to be the source of this problem?
I honestly don’t want to speculate. Please consider your own conclusion. Remember, no one is disputing that there has been ongoing research to create SARS-like coronavirus both in the U.S. and China. At the same time, we have U.S. and China publicly blaming each other for a virus that is supposed to start naturally in bats. A Chinese spokesman actually said on Twitter that “It might be the U.S. that brought the epidemic to Wuhan”. This tweet is still available online.9 So how then does it end up in bats if the U.S. took it to China? Whatever the truth, why are people even making viruses that can infect humans and cause mass disease? Why would anyone want to make a virus that could potentially kill many people if it escaped the lab? That appears to be our new world. If such things are happening, what is our role as humans in these disasters?
3. Is COVID-19 being blown out of proportion for other motives?
There is a feeling in some people that deaths from COVID-19 are being dramatised and inflated to promote lockdowns. Again, I cannot confirm don’t want to focus on this. What I want to point out is two things. First, deaths from COVID-19 aren’t dramatically higher than influenza and other flulike illnesses that have been with us for a while. As of 27th April, there were about 210,000 COVID-19 deaths compared to 155,000 deaths due to seasonal flu. We don’t see global lockdowns for the seasonal flulike illnesses, yet deaths aren’t dramatically different.
Second is that of the about 200,000-plus deaths (as of 27th April) about 72 percent are only in five countries (the U.S., Italy, the U.K., Spain, and France) and about 85 percent of all deaths in only ten countries. Do we need a global lockdown or the same response in all 195 countries of the world? Why should nations with very low death rates be under a lockdown and yet these same countries with higher death rates have begun opening up? African leaders must consider approaches relevant to our African context. But, back to the question. Why aren’t the other 185 countries hit as hard in terms of death?
4. Does 5G have anything to do with COVID-19?
Many people argue that 5G is the real story and not COVID-19. They think that 5G is what is causing most of the death and that COVID-19 is a cover up. Is there any truth to this? Rather than go into conspiracy, let’s look at a few things we know about 5G.
5G is a fifth generation technology that will greatly improve the speed of the internet. 5G is very exciting because it can revolutionise the world from a technology perspective. It can support driverless cars, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, etc. 5G is an improvement on 4G that is currently used in most parts of the world. There has been a gradual improvement in the technology from 1G to 5G over the years. The difference between these different levels is the amount of Radio Frequency Radiation (RFR) produced by the technology and the electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Each level produces RFRs at a higher frequency. 3G produced RFRs at a frequency of up to 2GHz, 4G produces RFRs at a frequency of up to 2.5Ghz. But 5G produces RFRs of up to 30Ghz to 300Ghz. That is a change of up to 100 times as much.
The EMFs and RFRs produced by this technology have long been a source of concern because of their potential to negatively impact health. At least 240 scientists have published peer-reviewed research on the biological and health effects of nonionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF)10 and have warned about the danger of 5G, which they expect will lead to a massive increase in involuntary exposure to electromagnetic radiation. These scientists called for an immediate moratorium on the deployment of 5G until research to identify exposure limits to protect health and safety is concluded11,12. It’s clear that the amount of electromagnetic radiation that 5G produces is a concern. If we can be concerned about the potential for microwave ovens that operate at a frequency of about 2.5Ghz to increase the risk for cancer, what about 5G that will continuously expose people to frequencies as high as 300Ghz.
Honestly, we could be slipping into dangerous territory. These high radiation frequencies may harm the cells of our skin, brains and immune systems. Such high frequencies pose a real threat to our health. So, could these 5G frequencies be contributing to the problem? It’s possible. My concern is the long-term consequences of this radiation. What happens 5, 10 and 20 years after adoption? We don’t know and need to weigh the benefit against risks.
The countries with the greatest impact in terms of death from COVID-19 are many of the same ones that have been the first to roll out 5G, including Italy, Spain, and the U.S. Even the regions that rolled it out first seem most affected. Is this something worth considering?
It is plausible that 5G can significantly weaken the immune systems of people exposed, and could be of greater concern in those who are elderly and have pre-existing health conditions. If infected by COVID-19, people exposed to significant amounts of 5G could have a more negative outcome. There’s need to take a closer look at 5G networks and decide whether they are really safe in the long and short term. It’s not wise to ignore this and proceed without looking at ways to ensure safety and mitigate any negative impacts. Who is determining the safety of 5G? If you’re in a position where you have an opportunity to make a difference, please think about our health and the world. We may wake up when it is too late.
5. Is a vaccine the solution to COVID-19 and should everyone be vaccinated if one is found?
In an ideal world, we should not need vaccines; our immune system should keep us strong and protect us. However, we don’t live in an ideal world and many of the world’s population live in poor, unhygienic and unfortunate conditions that put them at increased risk for infectious diseases. In such circumstances, vaccines can be useful. The burden of infectious diseases such as measles, polio and many others has been greatly decreased because of vaccines. From that angle, vaccines can and have been useful. However, there are three things we need to think about regarding vaccines.
a. The most important is safety versus efficacy. Does the benefit outweigh the risk? The vaccines that seem to have the most benefit are those that target diseases where an infected person can pass on the disease rapidly to many other people. One person with measles will infect about 12 to 18 others, spreading quickly in crowded areas. With COVID-19 the rate of spread is one person to about two others, similar to other flu viruses. The flu vaccine has been shown to be effective in only 40 to 60 percent of the cases. Many scientists have expressed concern that a vaccine may not produce the desired effect as we see with the flu virus. Many people don’t realise that a vaccine involves injecting something foreign into your body and expecting a good response. This does not always happen. Vaccines can have adverse effects. It’s not as simple as inject everyone and we are safe. People who live in fear of COVID-19 may not realise this. A vaccine is not a guaranteed solution. Many vaccines have helped but others have had bad effects. We need to use an evidence-based, scientific approach and not risk safety because of fear of death.
b. When money is involved, concern for human life sometimes becomes secondary. Unfortunately, not all humans put health first. Think about fake goods, inflated prices, harmful drugs, unsafe food, etc. These things are done by humans. Right now, there is a race for a vaccine. Why are people racing to find one? Because if they do, the financial rewards are immense. I have worked in the research industry, and I know for sure that many times economic interests supersede health interests. Vaccines are often made by multinational corporations collectively called Big Pharma. I am not suggesting that we cannot trust them, but sometimes a drug will be released to the public when it isn’t safe because profit supersedes safety. A COVID-19 vaccine presents an opportunity for profit, and with profit-driven pharmaceuticals, we must be careful. I am not against vaccines, but we must ensure that profit is not at the expense of safety. And who is looking out for Africa?
c. The bigger picture is whether everyone is working with the entire world’s benefit at heart. It is obvious that not everyone wants the best for everyone else. Africa has many times been used as a dumping ground and a place where our lives are not considered as important as others. Recently French scientists suggested that they could come test vaccines on Africans. Then there is the worry by people in the West that Africa’s population growth is too rapid and that such growth is a threat to humanity and must be controlled. I am not implying that anyone wants to depopulate Africa, but I am saying that there are people in the West who want to decide what is best for Africa. People talk about Bill Gates in many ways. I don’t know his agenda, but he is a wealthy person with power. Many times he has said that we need to slow down population growth in Africa13. My question is, why should people like him decide what is best for Africa? Why should the West dictate the rate of our population growth? Such comments cause concern. If Bill Gates is worried about poverty, why not support people to get out of poverty with no strings attached. Bill Gates is now leading the charge for a vaccine for COVID-19. You can watch this brief video and hear his views on this for yourself.
At some point he mentions making seven billion vaccines. That implies a plan is to vaccinate the entire population of the world. He even mentions that this vaccine could harm 700,000 people. Really? That may exceed the number of deaths from COVID-19. How can he determine that the whole world needs to be vaccinated? Who determines that you need a vaccine? Your government? Bill Gates? Some western organisation? As a philanthropist, he could better be supporting the work of organisations that are mandated do the work they do, rather than be misunderstood to be pushing for vaccines and driving the health agenda. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has probably done a lot of good for Africa but that doesn’t mean we should follow all that they say. Considering that his wife is predicting deaths in Africa and he thinks we need to reduce population growth, one can’t help but wonder why the western world should continue to determine what is best for everyone.
I am not against vaccines. My children and I are vaccinated. But I am one of those who are concerned that vaccines are not always effective and not always necessary. Issues of safety should never be ignored. It takes years to determine the safety of any vaccine or drug. How will those making a vaccine ascertain in only a few months that these vaccines are safe? My view is that if and when a vaccine is needed, whether now during COVID-19 or in the future, it should be one that we are sure is safe and effective. If a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, it could best be considered only for those at risk, who would have an option to opt out. If a western country feels that those countries not practising mandatory vaccination could be a threat to them, they could make it a travel requirement for those who want to enter their borders.
Once again, I want to strongly advocate for an African response to COVID-19, as well as an African Health Organisation and our own scientific community to make relevant decisions. African countries must continue to work together and take control of our own research and scientific response. Many countries like Uganda and Senegal are already taking the lead in developing affordable, accessible and effective COVID-19 tests and solutions that are tailored to our reality.
I am proud that Dr. Wayengera Misaki (inset), a Ugandan medical doctor, PhD and virologist that I went to school with is in final stages to have a COVID-19 test kit available that will cost only about one United States dollar (4,000 Uganda Shillings)14. Other countries can learn from this. With rising concerns of biowarfare, bioengineered viruses, and potential risk from 5G and other emerging technologies, we definitely need to start being less dependant on the West for both information and for aid.
My objective is not to point fingers or to create any kind of emotional sentiments. My objective is to try and get us all to realise that there is a lot going on within our borders and beyond, sometimes by forces that we may not recognise are not in our interests. I also hope that we can get people who make decisions for others to begin thinking about the greater good. I hope we can also begin to realise that we humans play a role either directly or indirectly in all that is happening. If we all start paying more attention and taking more initiative, together we can begin to make this world a better place. In the fourth and last part of this series, I’ll share about something that we all have and can harness and use to improve our world. The world is less at risk from COVID-19 than from our forgetting the importance of putting everyone’s best interests at heart and realising that we can all make a difference. Until then, we are likely to see one problem after the other until we ruin this beautiful earth that we all call our home.
1. Andersen, K. G., Rambaut, A., Lipkin, W. I., Holmes, E. C., & Garry, R. F. (2020). The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2. Nature medicine, 26(4), 450-452.
2. Kahn, J. S., & McIntosh, K. (2005). History and recent advances in coronavirus discovery. The Pediatric infectious disease journal, 24(11), S223-S227.
4. Mackenzie, J. S., & Smith, D. W. (2020). COVID-19: a novel zoonotic disease caused by a coronavirus from China: what we know and what we don’t. Microbiology Australia, 41(1), 45-50.
6. Butler, D. Engineered bat virus stirs debate over risky research. Nature News.
7. Reardon, S. (2014). US suspends risky disease research: government to cease funding gain-of-function studies that make viruses more dangerous, pending a safety assessment. Nature, 514(7523), 411-413.
8. Huang, C., Wang, Y., Li, X., Ren, L., Zhao, J., Hu, Y., ... & Cheng, Z. (2020). Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China. The Lancet, 395(10223), 497-506.
12. Hardell, L., & Nyberg, R. (2020). [Comment] Appeals that matter or not on a moratorium on the deployment of the fifth generation, 5G, for microwave radiation. Molecular and Clinical Oncology, 12(3), 247-257.