After waiting with bated breath for what seems like an eternity, a Covid-19 vaccine has finally landed on Philippine shores.
I have watched my mentors, colleagues, classmates and friends get vaccinated on national TV with pictures of them proudly brandishing their arms popping up all over social media.
ow that a vaccine is here, however, many are still hesitant to take it. If there was no other choice of vaccine, then it would be a no-brainer — take it. And we’ve heard it said by experts here and abroad: take whatever vaccine is offered to you.
Right now, there are seven vaccine brands for the Sars-CoV-2 virus, and so far only three have been granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in the Philippines — Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Sinovac. Of the three, only Sinovac is currently available for use.
Some question the efficacy of some vaccines over the others. If you compare one that is labelled as “50 percent effective” to one that is “90 percent effective,” the one labeled as 90 percent seems like the better one.
Vaccine efficacy (VE) means how much the disease is reduced in a group of people that are vaccinated. For example, take a certain disease that can affect 10 percent of a group of 100 people, then that would mean that 10 out of 100 people would get sick.
Now if another group of 100 people was given a vaccine with a VE of 80 percent, then instead of 10 people getting sick with the disease this would be reduced by 80 percent and only two people will get sick.
These efficacy rates miss the point, however. The rates of preventing mild and moderate disease may vary from one vaccine to another, but in all of the trials, all of the vaccines were 100-percent effective in preventing hospitalizations and death.
This means that of all those who were vaccinated, no one has gotten sick enough to require hospitalization and no one has died of Covid-19.
We do not get a vaccine to prevent the common cold because almost everyone recovers from the sniffles.
The reason we have vaccines is to prevent infections from causing severe disease and death. We have vaccines that work — the polio vaccine that prevents paralysis; the pneumococcal vaccine that prevents pneumonia; the measles vaccine that also prevents pneumonia, swelling of the brain and blindness.
If getting sick with Covid-19 only caused a mild cold, then there would be no need for a vaccine.
But while most cases of Covid-19 are mild, about 20 percent of infections result in severe disease, and nearly one percent of infected people die. For older people and those with underlying health problems, the risk of death can be much higher. And lest we forget: Covid-19 is a pandemic, infecting 114 million people worldwide with 2.5 million deaths at this writing.
We also vaccinate to protect those who cannot get vaccinated because of various reasons — cancer patients with weakened immune systems and cannot handle vaccines, those with severe allergies or those at extreme age (most vaccine trials do not test the very young or the elderly and therefore vaccine safety and efficacy cannot be assured).
So if we achieve herd immunity with most people being vaccinated, this will mean that less people get sick, and there are less sick people who can spread the infection to those who still cannot get vaccinated.
We still don’t know how long the vaccines will remain effective, but with each passing day comes new information.
Scientists also now say that no matter which vaccine people get first, there will likely be an option to get a booster of a different vaccine later on.
Ongoing research is already looking at the safety and efficacy of getting another kind of vaccine after you have completed a different one.
We also vaccinate to protect those who cannot get vaccinated because of various reasons
While some wait for a better vaccine to arrive, the virus continues to mutate, which happens when they replicate and continue to spread unchecked.
Some mutations cause concern, being able to spread more easily and can cause severe disease.
Waiting for a more effective vaccine does not lower your risk of getting severely ill and dying of Covid-19. For now, the best vaccine is any vaccine, for yourself and those around you.
Remember that the vaccine is not a cure and people can still get sick.
We need to remain vigilant and continue to prevent transmission by practicing hand hygiene, wearing masks properly (please cover your nose and mouth, a mask is not a hammock for your chin), wearing a face shield over your face and not as a hat or a headband, physical distancing, and limiting social gatherings.