Wed, December 01, 2021


Vaccinated — now what?

The Philippines has inoculated more than 114,000 individuals against COVID-19 as of Thursday, since the government started its mass vaccination drive last March 1. This is still a long way to go from covering 70 percent, or about 75 million of the 108-million population, in order to reach herd immunity, which would allow the country to ease restrictions and revive the tattered economy.

Nevertheless, that the government has finally secured its first vaccine supply agreement (with US drug maker Moderna, for 13 million doses of its vaccine, last March 7) on top of donated doses so far should boost hopes that there is light emerging after a year of great uncertainty, even as new, more contagious variants continue to pose challenges.

The donated supplies for the initial roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination program were from China’s Sinovac (600,000 doses) and British-Swedish AstraZeneca (487,200) via the COVAX global facility that aims to provide vaccines for 20 percent of a country’s population, enough to immunize target groups. The government said it is also aiming to close supply deals with Johnson & Johnson for 5 million doses, as well as with AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India for Novavax.

Most of the COVID-19 vaccines that are already available or are soon to arrive in the Philippines require two doses: AstraZeneca and Moderna (28 days apart), Pfizer-BioNTech and Novavax (21 days apart), and Sinovac (14 days apart). Those who receive these vaccines are not fully protected against COVID-19 until they get the second shot—and even then, scientists say it will take some time before a vaccine’s effectivity builds up. Johnson & Johnson requires only one dose, and those who receive the shot are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after.

Local government units have been conducting simulations ahead of the vaccine roll-out to smoothen the process and orient their constituents on the steps to be taken, particularly on when they need to come back for the second dose.

“Getting vaccinated is one of many steps you can take to protect yourself and others from COVID-19,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adding that protection from the coronavirus is “critically important” because, without it, infection can cause severe illness or even death for some people—especially vulnerable ones like those with comorbidities, senior citizens, and frontline health workers who are constantly exposed to risks.

At least 13 people who received the Sinovac vaccine on the first day of the government’s immunization program reported “minor” adverse effects, including pain at the site of the injection, nausea, and itching. The CDC had earlier said that these are common side effects after getting COVID-19 shots and could also include fever, chills, tiredness, and headache, but they are not life-threatening.

Because the COVID-19 vaccines are new, with some still undergoing trials, there remain “knowledge gaps” about the drugs such as duration of immunity, immediate adverse reactions, and their long-term effects—areas that scientists across the world continue to study. Inquirer columnist Dr. Rafael Castillo wrote recently that these gaps must be addressed eventually, and that scientists must be “transparent to the international public and update them of what to expect as outcome data becomes more evident.”

The CDC, meanwhile, has emphasized that being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 does not mean ditching health protocols that have been in place since last year, such as mask-wearing, hand-washing, and social distancing. “After you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, you may be able to start doing some things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic. But we’re still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19,” it said, and so basic preventive measures remain crucial.

Experts have warned that those who have been fully vaccinated can still spread the disease to others. Thus, reminded the CDC, precautions should still be taken especially in public places or when exposed to or interacting with unvaccinated people. Metro Manila mayors are right to insist that residents should continue to comply with the minimum health protocols even after getting inoculated, because the vaccine is not a replacement for such health safeguards. The wearing of face masks, for one, said Caloocan Mayor Oscar Malapitan, should still be required until COVID-19 is “totally eliminated.”

Dr. Carlos del Rio of Emory University in Atlanta is counseling patience and vigilance even with the arrival of vaccines: “It’s not like you’ll need to wear a mask for the rest of your life. You need to wear your mask until we have the data, and we’re trying to get the answers as fast as we can.”


Published : March 14, 2021

By : Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN