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With thousands vaccinated, Dr Rawal urges caution

Pic: PA

As over 10,000 people in Gibraltar receive the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, acting Medical Director, Dr Krishna Rawal, has urged the public not to throw caution to the wind.

Dr Rawal warned there is still uncertainty over Covid-19, reminding people that rules on social distancing and mask wearing should still be adhered to.

As of Tuesday, another 6,000 have received just their first dose of the vaccine and overall, 26,379 first and second doses have been administered by the GHA.

But the masks will remain until further evidence is available the vaccine’s effect on the virus.

Scientists globally are researching whether or not those fully inoculated can host and spread the virus.

The hope is once vaccinated people will not be able to carry the Covid-19.

This crucial information will likely dictate how the world reacts as vaccination programmes globally progress.

“We are hoping that the evidence will show once you’ve been vaccinated you can’t be a carrier,” Dr Rawal said.

He added that until these studies are completed, Gibraltar will continue to exercise caution.

Staff at the GHA will continue to be swabbed weekly for 12 weeks after their second jab as a precaution.

Dr Rawal said he expects more scientific research to emerge in the coming weeks which will clarify what steps should be taken when loosening restrictions.

Already there are early indication from Israel, where a mass vaccination programme is well advanced, that serious cases of Covid-19 are on the decline.

But for now, vaccine optimism should be prudent, and Dr Rawal urged the public to not break the restrictions.

“I’m sure this is the question on everybody’s mind,” Dr Rawal said.

“A lot of people I’m sure are thinking, well I’ve just been through the second dose and there’s this amazing vaccination campaign so what does this now give us?”

“A lot of the issue and perhaps the uncertainty - and I absolutely share everyone’s questions and frustrations with this - is because this is a virus, and therefore a vaccine, that we haven’t really lived with for that long.”

At the moment, restrictions will stay the same in order to drive down infections.

“We will be able to ease off the restrictions and return to some semblance of normality relatively soon but I don’t think we’re ready yet to be absolutely definite on what that will be,” Dr Rawal said.

He added: “We are just at the last bit of the race so it would be inadvisable to relax, but I am so aware that people are exhausted.”

“I would urge people, please, please, carry on with a sense of caution.”

After months of public uncertainty over the emerging Covid-19 vaccines, Dr Rawal said the uptake in all groups has been around 96% to 97%.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 95% effective and has been distributed to Gibraltar by the UK Government.

“The uncertainty [over the vaccine] has swung the other way based on the awful last couple of months and January that we’ve had,” Dr Rawal said.

“We had quite a gentle time with Covid last year and then we had a terrible experience.”

“It really, unfortunately, in the worst kind of way, focused our minds on the reality of this virus and how it can affect our community and the people we love.”

Dr Rawal said the high uptake is amazing for the community and hope that with it, the vaccine will bring some normality.

The effects of the Covid-19 lockdown are also being seen, with Dr Rawal confirming there have been very few Covid-related admissions into the hospital in recent days.

Most of the patients currently in hospital are on respiration or ventilation support, but this recovery takes time.

Some patients have been in hospital for weeks as they are slowly weaned off respiratory support.

Dr Rawal explained there are also people who, although not hospitalised will feel the post-viral effects of Covid-19 for weeks.

As their immune system has fought the virus, it has left them weakened with some time needed for a full recovery.

This, he added, should not be confused with ‘long-Covid’.

Long-Covid is when people continue to have Covid-19 symptoms for weeks and even months after infection.

He added there is a concern that Covid-19 affects the clotting system within the body and can happen for six to eight weeks after infection.

“We are increasing our surveillance of that, as we are becoming more aware,” Dr Rawal said.

“We are asking people to let us know if those symptoms are going on a lot longer than anticipated, it may just be the post-viral effect, but we are asking people to look out for the shortness of breath, mottling in the skin, any calf swelling.”

He advised anyone with continuing Covid-19 symptoms to call 111.

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