POSTSCRIPT / August 17, 2021 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Police still haven’t caught a Delta virus

POLICEMEN and barangay tanods deployed in the streets to stop COVID-19 infection have not captured a single Delta variant, much less slapped the veerus as President Duterte once threatened to do, and here comes another variant, the Lambda, to add to the scary scenario.

It might help the police if Malacañang drew for them a Matrix linking Delta and other variants and presented it in a media briefing like what was done with Olympian weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz before she went to the Tokyo Games and caught the first-ever gold medal for the country.

As if the new COVID-19 surges are not problematic enough, the Commission on Audit is pressing health officials to explain how they used the P67 billion entrusted to them to mitigate the pandemic that has infected some 1,750,000 Filipinos and killed at least 30,350 of them.

The crowd has joined in, demanding that Health Secretary Francisco Duque resign, prompting him to say that he could not just leave his post. That, we understand – because somebody has to stay and absorb the blame so it does not go up all the way to his president.

The administration is not just stumbling around as it chases an invisible coronavirus and its variants, but is also running against the clock.

President Duterte and his subalterns have promised herd immunity before the end of the year, which means the full vaccination of at least 70 percent of the 109-million national population.

But at the rate the Chief and his military-led task forces are marking time, the most optimistic non-government experts see herd immunity mercifully dawning on these islands not by Christmas but possibly just before the May elections next year.

That could be bad news for the planned Marcos-Duterte tandem and their candidates who are worried about a double whammy of a faltering economy and a surging pandemic. (They should be grateful that until this late date there is still no unified opposition.)

They are also diverting attention from the Christmas target for herd immunity by repeatedly talking instead of “population protection” that aims at a target lowered from 70 percent to just 50 percent of the population.

This is a numerical trick, similar to the expediency of arbitrarily lowering the poverty threshold so official statistics would show fewer people bracketed as “poor” without creating jobs, boosting income, lowering prices, or plying the masa with regular ayuda (cash aid) and food rations.

Another diversionary tactic for creating a semblance of a merry Christmas (without mentioning herd immunity) is to concentrate vaccine firepower till December on urban centers like Metro Manila, to hit 50-percent vaccination while the outlying countryside waits.

 Palace can blame Delta for setback

HERD immunity is achieved when a sufficiently large portion of the population (between 70 and 80 percent) has become immune, through vaccination or previous infections, thereby reducing the likelihood of further infection or transmission.

Malacañang need not worry anymore about finding something or someone to blame for its imminent failure to deliver its promised Christmas gift of herd immunity.

Duterte could just point to the unexpected appearance of the highly contagious Delta variant that is breaking down the immunity wall that COVID-19 vaccines are supposed to build around those taking the prescribed inoculations.

This Delta incursion is happening not only in the Philippines but in many other countries, including advanced economies, where Delta has gained a toehold.

Data analyzed by scientists on “breakthrough infections” of fully vaccinated individuals show that the variants have been able to break through the protective barrier provided by the vaccine.

The Telegraph of London said in an article on Aug. 11 by Paul Nuki, its Global Health Security Editor: “Without a vaccine that completely blocks infection and transmission, the prospect of herd immunity goes out the window.”

The Philippine health department need not be secretive about the actual number of infections traced to the Delta and other variants and should faithfully report them as they come. Neither should anyone tweak or manipulate the figures.

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FIGHTING the pandemic will be a futile exercise if we do not have a correct measurement of the infection, as well as the speed and direction of contamination. This testing-tracing aspect of COVID-19 management has been largely neglected or shrouded by doubts.

Duterte may not realize it yet, but the appearance of the variants might help him explain the difficulty of blocking or tiring out viruses and their resulting mutations as they adapt to their human hosts.

Nuki wrote: “It was not long ago we dared hope vaccines would prevent, not just serious illness, but the bulk of onward Covid transmission. No more, alas. All over the country and across the world people who have received two jabs of vaccine are being infected with Covid-19, albeit mildly for the most part.

“The first hint of an issue came from Israel in July, when its health ministry released data suggesting the Pfizer jab’s effectiveness at preventing symptomatic infection had slipped from 94 to 64 percent with the arrival of the Delta variant. The UK’s own numbers initially looked stronger, but now they too have taken a hit as far as ‘breakthrough infections’ are concerned.

“These latest findings from React-1, a rolling survey led by Imperial College London, found fully vaccinated individuals had only a 50 to 60 percent reduced risk of infection once asymptomatic carriers were taken into account.”

There! Mr. President, Sir, just blame Delta and its ilk when Christmas comes around without the promised herd immunity!

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 17, 2021)

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