POSTSCRIPT / March 2, 2021 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Chasing coronavirus with China vaccines

THE MASS vaccination of some 80 million Filipinos finally rolled out yesterday with health workers armed with 600,000 doses of Chinese vaccines fanning out initially in Metro Manila to start inoculating persons on the government priority lists.

The CoronaVac vaccines of Sinovac Biotech donated by the Chinese government arrived at the Manila international airport at 4:08 p.m. Sunday on a Chinese military cargo plane. President Duterte himself led the welcoming party.

Sinovac Biotech is one of several pharma firms competing in the global race to produce a vaccine that can stop the rampage of the unseen SARS CoV-2 virus that has infected some 115 million people in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virus has killed more than 12,320 Filipinos, out of at least 577,000 infected, since it leap-frogged a year ago from the China mainland to here. The government is buying more vaccines from other sources to meet its avowed goal of inoculating 80 million Filipinos by end of 2022.

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AT THIS POINT, to dispel any misimpression left by my last Postscript titled “Sorry, I had myself vaccinated ahead” that I am another Mon Tulfo who had himself vaccinated with a smuggled Chinese brand, I want to clarify that:

I was vaccinated last week in the United States with a Pfizer first dose and that I am not on the government payroll. Other details can be gleaned from my column last Sunday (see For a chatty recollection, below is part of an email I sent to Nonnie, a media colleague in Manila.

“I had consulted my primary doctor on what vaccine to take and she suggested Moderna. But the Seniors Center where I went had only Pfizer. So yun na lang kinuha ko, kasi hindi ganoon kadali mag-reserve ng slot (strictly no walk-in) lalo na’t hindi naman ako Amerikano.

“Very smooth ang flow ng tao. ‘Tsaka very neat, quiet and orderly ang lugar. Huwag mo lang i-chismis, I probably disturbed the peace (some people looked at me) when I asked permission to have a photo taken of my vaccination, but I got the pictures I wanted.

What I saw and experienced palagay ko hindi ma-approximate gawin natin sa Filipinas. Keeping track alone of each of the projected 80 million Filipino vaccinees is a daunting challenge to our resources, our systems and the management skills of those in charge of the mass vaccination.”

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PRESIDENT Duterte expressed hope at the arrival of the Sinovac shipment that, with all sectors cooperating, a return to near-normalcy leading to economic revival can be achieved within his term.

It has been noted that Duterte is not having himself injected with Sinovac. He pointed to his doctor’s advice that at his age of 75 (76 on March 28), his taking the Chinese drug may not be safe.

We dare say, however, that the morbidity problem lies not in his age but elsewhere, and possibly in that Chinese vaccine itself. Numerous elderly world leaders, some of them older than he, have had themselves publicly inoculated — with better vaccines — with no ill effects.

Several of his alter egos in the Cabinet have dutifully lined up to take the shots themselves in various medical sites where their public inoculation may help allay the lingering public suspicion of Chinese vaccines.

Duterte’s gofers have delayed the arrival of competing vaccines from the West, giving local market dominance to Sinovac, and soon possibly also to Sinopharm (the one Mon Tulfo used).

With no alternative brands to buy, many potential users, including health workers, feel the mounting pressure to settle for the Chinese variety. The attempt to stampede worried folk, many of them hungry and jobless, might just work.

But it detracts from the basic idea that a patient must be able to have viable options when his health is at stake. As we often say here, there should be several vaccines offered cafeteria-style.

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WE spotted a relevant Q&A on Feb. 26 in The Conversation by Deborah Fuller, professor of microbiology, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Excerpts:

Q: Does vaccination completely prevent infection?

A: The short answer is No. You can still get infected after you’ve been vaccinated. But your chances of getting seriously ill are almost zero. Many people think vaccines work like a shield, blocking a virus from infecting cells altogether. But in most cases, a person who gets vaccinated is protected from disease, not necessarily infection.

Every person’s immune system is a little different, so when a vaccine is 95 percent effective, that just means 95 percent of people who receive the vaccine won’t get sick. These people could be completely protected from infection, or they could be getting infected but remain asymptomatic because their immune system eliminates the virus very quickly. The remaining 5 percent of vaccinated people can become infected and get sick, but are extremely unlikely to be hospitalized.

Vaccination doesn’t 100 percent prevent you from getting infected, but in all cases it gives your immune system a huge leg up on the coronavirus. Whatever your outcome, you’ll be better off after encountering the virus than if you hadn’t been vaccinated.

Q: Does infection always mean transmission?

A: Transmission happens when enough viral particles from an infected person get into the body of an uninfected person. In theory, anyone infected with the coronavirus could potentially transmit it. But a vaccine will reduce the chance of this happening.

In general, if vaccination doesn’t completely prevent infection, it will significantly reduce the amount of virus coming out of your nose and mouth – a process called shedding – and shorten the time that you shed the virus. This is a big deal. A person who sheds less virus is less likely to transmit it to someone else.

Less coronavirus virus means less chance of spreading it, and if the amount of virus in your body is low enough, the probability of transmitting it may reach almost zero. However, researchers don’t yet know where that cutoff is for the coronavirus, and since the vaccines don’t provide 100 percent protection, it is recommended that people continue to wear masks and keep social distance even after they’ve been vaccinated.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 2, 2021)

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