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The Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) COVID-19 Response Task Team hosted two identical virtual seminars on the COVID-19 vaccines, last week Wednesday, 9 June 2021 and Friday, 11 June 2021. The online seminars titled: A Simple Understanding of the Different COVID-19 Vaccine Technologies: Demystifying the Myths via the Eye of Basic Sciences, was held on Microsoft Teams.

Facilitating last Friday’s seminar was Dr Nellie Naranjee, lecturer at DUT’s Department of Nursing. She said the virtual seminar is well-timed since South Africa is at a critical space of vaccination. Dr Naranjee added that guests will benefit greatly from the presentation, in terms of the knowledge of the virus and the role of the vaccine in the fight of the eradication of COVID-19. She, then introduced the guest speaker, DUT’s Dr Moses Olusegun who holds a PhD in Chemistry-Physical/Medicinal Bioinorganic Chemistry.

Dr Olusegun is a seasoned academic and passionate researcher in the field of Physical and Biological Chemistry. His current research focuses on Chemical Biology, a research field that is at the heart of understanding and finding pharmaceutical solutions to the current COVID-19 pandemic. He is currently teaching Basic Sciences and Research modules in the Undergraduate Nursing Programme at DUT’s Indumiso Campus.

Speaking at the second leg of the virtual seminars on COVID-19 vaccines, Dr Olusegun said that all the people’s health and ill-health originates from proteins. He said it can be proteins generated from people or proteins that come from the bacteria and the virus.

“When bacteria infect a human being, it releases certain kinds of enzymes. Proteins are so essential, for instance we can trace the origin of cancer through proteins. The arrangement of the protein is already encoded in the DNA, if one of the protein does not follow the master plan, that cell is considered flat by our immune system. This will lead to that particular protein not being able to replicate itself in the human cell and before you know it, it cannot be controlled by the nucleus anymore, diseases and cancer can then be traced. There are other physical factors that affect the composition of a protein, for instance temperature. When the protein’s structure is remodified, you can say that it has gone raw inside the human body,” said Dr Olusegun.

He explained that viruses are like proteins as well because they do not have a complete cell.

“That is why we consider a virus to be a non-living thing. If a virus is just a protein, that means they are sensitive to physical and chemical conditions. A virus is made up of either RNA or DNA wrapped in a protein coat, once the protein coat gives way, the component of the viruses is exposed and they die. The virus has the glycoproteins that help the virus to preserve the genetic information of the virus. These glycoproteins are made up of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, they are all organic molecules. Any organic liquid can destroy them, they can be soluble inside those organic molecules, that is why when you use 70% plus alcohol contained sanitiser you can easily destroy any outer layer not just a virus of COVID-19 alone, even the flu virus,” said Dr Olusegun.

Furthermore, Dr Olusegun indicated that the virus is not powerful until it finds its way inside a host cell, where it becomes dangerous and replicate. Once the viruses gain access into the cell, they attach to gain control of the ribosome to replicate themselves.

“If we link that to COVID-19, which is an RMA virus meaning it does not need to change itself, it needs to go straight into the ribosome and stop the production of essential proteins that are necessary for the body to defend itself. The only solution now lies with our immune system, which is designed in such a way that it knows how to tackle the virus. The immune system has been trained to fight off viral infections. For instance, active and passive immunisation is vital. When I say active immunisation, I mean the current vaccination project that is going on as we speak in South Africa and all over the world. Passive immunisation is the use of plasma taken from someone that has recovered from a specific illness and feed it to people who are severely sick with that particular infection. At the beginning of COVID-19, this was the only solution that was being administered because there was nothing the doctors could do but help you manage the symptoms and boost your immune system,” he said.

Speaking about the vaccine technologies, Dr Olusegun added that they make use of the weakened or the dead virus. He said people who talk about the vaccine being made trial and error which is part of a scientific process. Furthermore, he highlighted that it is through trial and error that scientists have come up with every scientific discovery or breakthrough over the years. Currently, he said there are so many regulatory bodies that ensure that before the vaccine is administered, it must have undergone all different kinds of trials and ensure that it is absolutely safe. According to Dr Olusegun, developing the commission of vaccine takes time and is quiet expensive.

Discussing the facts of the vaccines, Dr Olusegun said the vaccine cannot give anyone COVID-19 and do not interfere with the people’s DNA anywhere, as it does not go into the nucleus.

The guests had a chance to ask questions and engage with Dr Olusegun after he unpacked the specifics about the COVID-19 vaccines.

Concluding the seminar was DUT’s Clinical Instructor, Shamila Moonsamy. She thanked Dr Olusegun for taking his time out to unpack the details on COVID-19 vaccines and also she thanked the guests for their presence and support in the programme.

Pictured: Dr Moses Olusegun

Simangele Zuma

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