POSTSCRIPT / March 14, 2021 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Daily COVID deaths soar from 34 to 72

SATURDAY was flashing red when the coronavirus fueling the COVID-19 pandemic was reported to have infected 5,000 more Filipinos yesterday (vs a daily average of 1,676) and killed 72 (vs a daily average of 34), one year after the disease claimed its first Filipino fatality in March 2020.

Compare the average daily infection of 1,676 with these: March 6 — 2,238 infections; March 7 — 1,374; March 8 – 2,920; March 9 — 635; March 10 – 2,886; March 11 – 3,749; March 12 – 4,578; and March 13 (Saturday) — 5,000! We got the 1,676 daily average by dividing the one-year total of 611,618 infections by 365 days.

With total infections now at more than 612,000, the authorities who had failed to act early and fast enough are now scurrying to secure vaccines to inoculate 70 million Filipinos before yearend to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus tagged technically as SARS CoV-2.

President Duterte, who says that mass vaccination is the only way to stop the scourge, confesses his having to strike a delicate balance between easing social restrictions so as to revive the faltering economy and tightening them to stop the spread of the pandemic.

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MEETING Monday with a Cabinet cluster, the President asked the public to observe anti-COVID protocols on wearing masks, washing the hands, and keeping social distance to deny the virus ways of infecting the person and contaminating others.

Duterte assured those still hesitant to get vaccinated that the government-approved serums were safe and efficacious. He deplored what he said was misinformation, some of which he blamed on Vice President Leni Robredo, getting in the way.

In the same meeting, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. reported that only 44,000 doses of vaccines had been administered as of Monday.

Those were part of the 1,125,600 doses that arrived recently — 600,000 Sinovac doses donated by China and 525,600 AstraZeneca secured through the Covax facility managed by the World Health Organization to help countries with limited means get their fair share.

In interviews elsewhere, Galvez had said the government wants to achieve herd immunity before the yearend by vaccinating 70 million people (at two doses per head). This means, he said, inoculating 300,000 to 500,000 people daily, assuming 60 million doses arrive in the third quarter and another 60 million in the fourth.

When President Duterte was asked by the media during the Feb. 28 arrival of Sinovac vaccines from China, he was not that definite about completing the mass vaccination by yearend. Pressed for a timetable, he hinted that the goal could be met before his term ends.

The WHO declared on Jan. 31, 2020, a global emergency, later described a pandemic, after the virus spread from China to more than a dozen countries that included the Philippines, the United States, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, South Korea and Vietnam.

The first fatality in the Philippines was reported by the Department of Health on Feb. 2 – a 44-year-old Chinese man who was admitted to San Lazaro Hospital for pneumonia after experiencing fever, cough and sore throat.

 How long will immunity last?

AFTER one gets his COVID-19 vaccine, when will the immunity kick in and how long will it last? Can he still infect others? How long does he need to take precautions?

Here are excerpts from the Jan. 29 WHO podcast on what comes after vaccination. Dr. Katherine O’Brien, who served on the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) committee from 2012 to 2018 converses with Vismita Gupta-Smith, Strategy, Planning & Coordination head of WHO’s Department of Communications.

Gupta-Smith: After the vaccination, when does immunity kick in and how long does it last?

O’Brien: The vaccines that we have are all two-dose vaccines. After the first dose, we see a good immune response that kicks in within about two. It’s really the second dose that then boosts that immune response and we see immunity get even stronger after that second dose, again within a shorter period of time after the second dose. (This was before Johnson&Johnson announced its having developed a one-dose vaccine.—fdp)

We don’t know yet how long immunity lasts from the vaccines that we have. We’re following people who have received vaccinations to find out whether or not their immune response is durable over time and the length of time for which they’re protected against disease. So we’re going to have to wait.

Gupta-Smith: After one has been vaccinated, can one still catch COVID-19 and can one also infect others?

O’Brien: The clinical trials demonstrated that these vaccines protect people against disease. What we don’t know yet is whether or not the vaccines also protect people from just getting infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and whether or not it protects against transmitting to somebody else.

This is a really important part of our understanding about what these vaccines do. Do they only protect against disease or do they also protect against getting infected and being able to transmit to somebody else, even if you’re not having any symptoms?

Gupta-Smith: Why does one need to continue with the precautions even after vaccination? And, how long are we expected to take these precautions?

O’Brien: We really need to continue these precautions while we’re still learning about what the vaccines can do. Can they protect against getting infected and transmitting to someone else? Right now, we’re in a situation where there’s still very broad transmission in many countries, the transmission is just out of control.

For how long we need to continue these precautions is really going to depend on what communities and countries can do to really crush this virus, to crush the transmission. In that way, the vaccines can do their best job at preventing disease.

Another reason is that the vaccines are in short supply, so we don’t have enough vaccine yet out in the community to protect everybody.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 14, 2021)

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