POSTSCRIPT / April 27, 2021 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Anti-Asian crime bill gets bipartisan push

BIPARTISAN support in the US Congress is pushing legislation to improve community relations, law enforcement, and allied programs for better protection of Asian Americans, including some four million FilAms, and Pacific islanders from racial hate crimes.

Despite marked partisan divisions on many issues, the Senate approved Thursday on a 94-1 vote a bill designed to curb anti-Asian crimes. In a nearly one-year period ending Feb. 28, there have been recorded about 3,800 incidents related to racial hate and discrimination.

Many FilAms in the US, not to mention their kith and kin back home, have been horrified by many recent reports, some captured on video, of hate crimes targeting Asians, a number of whom were Filipinos.

On its approval, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), said: “The vote today on the anti-Asian hate crimes bill is proof that when the Senate is given the opportunity to work, it can work to solve important issues.”

The bill now goes to the House which is expected to similarly give it expeditious approval with Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) leading its sponsorship.

President Biden has said he would sign it into law as soon as it gets to his desk. He urged speedy passage of legislation against hate crimes after the shooting in Georgia last month that left several women of Asian descent dead.

Introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), the bill gained headway late Wednesday during negotiations with Republicans. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) helped broaden the original scope of the bill beyond hate crimes that have flared during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Crimes motivated by bias against race, national origin, and other characteristics cannot be tolerated,” Collins said.

The proposed law provides grants and other incentives to law enforcement agencies to better track hate crimes and establish networks. It requires the Attorney General to designate a Department of Justice official to initiate a review of hate crimes to improve law enforcement.

The Attorney General shall also set guidance for agencies to take part in new online reporting requirements and campaigns to expand public awareness.

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AMBASSADOR Babe Romualdez reported from Washington, DC, that he had a virtual meeting Saturday with FilAm community leaders, together with Consul General Elmer Cato in New York, to discuss anti-Asian hate crimes in many parts of the US.

The rise in racial crimes, he said, has been noticeable in major cities, especially in New York that showed a sharp increase of 833 percent in 2020. The menace has prompted FilAm organizations to close ranks in lobbying for remedial measures.

Romualdez sent a note verbale to the State Department on the rising incidence of hate crimes against Asian Americans, including Filipinos. He said: “Divergent groups have been working together to stop the attacks, showing solidarity in combatting hate and discrimination.”

He welcomed the US Senate’s approving the anti-Asian hate crime bill, which saw the crossing of party lines in supporting the bill that aims to strengthen efforts to stem the tide of such hate crimes.

We asked ConGen Cato for his reaction to the Senate approval. He said: “This is a very positive development that we welcome in view of the surge in the number of hate incidents that have targeted Filipinos and other members of the Asian American Community in New York and other parts of the US.

“This legislative initiative drives home the message that there is no room for race-based hate, discrimination, and violence, and that like everyone else, Filipinos and Asians belong here. Our kababayan here in the US, especially the elderly who have been expressing fears for their safety, will be assured of an additional layer of protection once the bill is enacted by Congress hopefully next month.”

 Will you need a booster shot?

THE answer below is from Bloomberg Prognosis responding to a Jeff of Long Branch, New Jersey, who asked: “I’m assuming we’ll all need booster shots at some point. Will the booster shots have to be from the same manufacturer as your original vaccine?”

To start, there is still some debate about whether we will need booster shots at all. You’ve probably had booster shots for other vaccines before. The idea is that some provide immunity only for a certain amount of time, while others offer lifelong protection.

So in which category do the Covid shots on the market belong? Unfortunately, not enough time has passed since the first trial participants received their vaccines to answer that question.

Executives from vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna have been in the news speculating that booster shots will likely be needed before too long. Johnson & Johnson Chief Executive Officer Alex Gorsky has suggested Covid-19 vaccination may be necessary annually, like flu shots.

But Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said she’s not so sure. Perhaps drug company CEOs aren’t the most impartial observers.

“I don’t actually know if we will need booster shots in the future, and I think those decisions will best be made by public health experts,” says Gandhi.

She says a few things have made her optimistic that we won’t actually need them. For one, variants of the SARS-Cov2 virus appear to be covered by vaccines. And we know that T-cell immunity from vaccination can last a long time.

“A similar virus to the one that causes Covid-19 caused SARS-CoV and led to the first SARS pandemic in 2003,” Gandhi says. “And T-cell immunity from those who have recovered from SARS is still strong 17 years after infection.”

How quickly we can slow the current spread and prevent future significant mutations of the virus may be a factor in whether we eventually need booster shots.

“The coronavirus doesn’t actually mutate that quickly when it’s not transmitting and has a very strong proofreading mechanism to avoid mutations, so I am hopeful we won’t need boosters very often—or if at all— in the future,” she says.

That said, getting back to Jeff’s question, if we do need booster shots, it shouldn’t matter which one you get.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 27, 2021)

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