POSTSCRIPT / March 18, 2021 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Herd immunity not likely under Duterte

WITH the hit-and-miss (mostly miss) manner President Duterte has been pursuing his COVID-19 mass inoculation program – hobbled by the slow procurement of vaccines – it looks doubtful if herd immunity would be achieved before his term ends in June 2022.

One year after the coronavirus from China sneaked in and claimed its first Filipino life in March 2020, we have not seen trending statistics on infection and vaccination indicating that the country is on its way to herd immunity with some 80 million adults being inoculated.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. reported to the Cabinet on Monday that 44,000 doses of vaccines had been administered as of that week, and that the government was still awaiting 120 million more doses (for 60 million vaccines getting two shots each) in the latter half of this year.

Assuming those 2 x 60 million doses are delivered on time and deployed with speed and precision – inputting the interval between two doses of three to four weeks and then waiting for the serum to take effect – how can anyone dream of herd immunity by June next year?

Even now, another virus, the political germ endemic in these parts, has started making its pernicious presence felt, poised to stage an epidemic of its own. Then there will be the disruptive typhoons that are so many we run out of alphabetical names to tag them. Et cetera.

Duterte’s subconscious slip showed when he uttered once that if only the virus would sit still so he could shoot it, if urinating on it fails. With the coronavirus defying literal troubleshooting, he would need more generals for his task forces ranged against the invisible virus.

In our view, the only way Duterte could achieve herd immunity and tame the rampaging COVID-19 within his term is to extend his regime beyond June 2022. He has better control of the local political fever than of that part of the pandemic in the country.

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DESPITE the admin’s slow reflexes dragging the logistical nightmare, Health Secretary Francisco Duque has to sound optimistic. He said in a TV interview yesterday that by April, around 450,000 people would be inoculated daily in 4,500 jab sites “as soon as the vaccines have come.”

Similar past assurances of prompt delivery have fallen flat, eroding the credibility of government promises, as well as faith in the claimed safety and efficacy of some favored vaccines being pushed by the administration.

Duque also said that some 215,997 healthcare workers, among the 1.7 million identified by the administration, have been vaccinated. With the arrival by April of more vaccines, he promised, the government will have enough doses to inoculate most healthcare personnel.

The inoculation will be carried out using 600,000 doses of Sinovac Biotech vaccines donated by China and 525,600 AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX facility arranged by the World Health Organization for countries with limited resources to bid for vaccines.

After the healthcare workers, Duque said, will be the turn of some 9.7 million senior citizens, but he did not say when — or if they would be injected with Sinovac despite their being seniors like Duterte. Also on the priority lists are Duterte’s soldiers and policemen, with their family members, that he wants vaccinated quickly.

 World told of ‘Philippine variant’

POOR Philippines got sideswiped in a global mention of cases of new COVID variants “first detected in the Philippines” that were reported in England. The sourcing of the virus was not quite accurate.

Public Health England itself said the virus was of the strain that has the same E484K spike protein found in the Manaus mutation from Brazil. The detection reportedly brought to 12 the total number of Manaus cases in the United Kingdom.

Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases said it also found a new variant from the B.1.1.28 line from a traveler who arrived Feb. 25 at Narita Airport from the Philippines.

Philippine health authorities confirmed Saturday the detection in the country of the variant P.3 of which it said there are 98 local cases. It belongs to the B.1.128 line, like the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil.

The Department of Health said there are not enough data available to conclude if the variant has significant public health implications despite its carrying notable mutations such as E484K and N501Y associated with increased transmissibility.

The variants first identified in the UK (B.1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1) have the N501Y mutation. The variants B.1.351 and P.1 carry the E484K mutation, which may help the virus evade some antibodies, possibly affecting vaccine efficacy.

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THE HEALTH department in Manila said: “Upon verification with the Phylogenetic Assignment of Named Global Outbreak Lineages (PANGOLIN), the said samples with these mutations have been reassigned to the P3 variant, belonging to the B1128 lineage, to which the P1 variant also belongs. Thirteen additional cases were detected in this batch which bring the total P3 variant cases in the country to 98.”

Some people call the variant “P.1”, which unfortunately could be mistaken for “PI” – not the abbreviation of the colonial name Philippine Islands but of the more colorful expletive dribbling out of the Mayor’s mouth when provoked.

Manaus is the capital city of Brazil’s state of Amazonas. It is the seventh-largest city in that South and Latin American country with an estimated 2020 population of 2,219,580 (compared to Metro Manila’s 12,877,250).

In the global COVID-19 tally, Brazil is second to the United States with its total infections (11,609,601) and deaths (282,400). With the heavy toll on its people, Manaus was the first Brazilian city to dig mass graves in 2020.

So now some Malacañang apologists are able to blame the new-found variants for the slow rollout of the vaccines and the dim future of the promised herd immunity.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 18, 2021)

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