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Immunity choices

Even if a vaccine has only 50 percent efficacy, it can still spare hundreds of thousands from hospitalizations, chronic health issues and death.

Nick V. Quijano Jr.



High hopes of an early victory against the pandemic describes best Malacañang’s take after a group of health care workers and officials ceremonially kicked-off vaccinations by receiving injections of the vaccine from China’s Sinovac.

While encouraging hopes isn’t all wrong, it is also isn’t wrong to take the wise counsel that the worst mistake anyone can make is to promise an early triumph and to see final victory dashed, all hopes dashed.

Still, counselling for sobriety isn’t about hopelessly resigning, for hopes, too, “are but dreams of those that wake.”

And here waking up is fearlessly confronting three general but difficult and challenging questions about vaccinations.

The critical questions are: What does this administration’s vaccination roadmap and portfolio look like? Will we get the vaccinations we need? What are the challenges to get Filipinos inoculated?

Fully elaborating those questions will take far more than what a newspaper column allows. But this shouldn’t dissuade us from at least initially talking about some substantial points those questions have raised.

Publicly, the administration says one crucial point of the vaccination road map is vaccinating some 50 million to 70 million Filipinos.

Doing the simple math on achieving the figure is staggering. To reach 70 million vaccinated Filipinos, an army of thousands of trained vaccinators need to jab daily some 175,000 Filipinos in the next 365 days.

Aside from this, it also means procuring nearly 140 million vaccine doses since most Covid-19 vaccines need two doses to effectively work.

The 70 million magic number is also not the actual destination. It is just a major stop on the road map.

The true destination of our vaccination journey is still about all of us getting back our normal lives before the pandemic.

How long before we are able to go back? If it’s any indication, Mr. Duterte expects it to happen only in 2023. That’s a full two years of mask wearing and social distancing.

But before we all return to life without social distancing and mask wearing, we need vaccines which provide a sufficient amount of what’s known as “sterilizing immunity,” which means most of us need a drug which blocks the transmission of the Covid-19 virus.

So, way before we even take one step to normalcy, we have to get hold of vaccines. Sadly, in the worldwide scramble for vaccines, we do not know if we can get all the vaccines we need.

As it is, the bulk of the vaccines this administration had managed to get its hands on will only start arriving by the second or third quarter of the year, and it is only by then will we know how far we still have to go.

Getting the vaccines isn’t the only daunting challenge. Choosing the kind of vaccine to get is another. In recent months, choosing vaccine brands has been hotly debated and has led to wide confusion.

To resolve the confusion, epidemic experts say the best way to settle the debate lies not so much on what vaccine one prefers, but more on what vaccine brands effectively achieves “herd immunity.”

Epidemic experts say achieving “herd immunity” through vaccines essentially means getting vaccines which have a 75 percent efficacy.

Of the vaccine brands the country is eyeing, AstraZeneca’s vaccine efficacy is upward of 70.4 percent, compared with over 50 percent for Sinovac’s product and around 95 percent for those from Pfizer and Moderna.

By efficacy alone, both Sinovac and AstraZeneca are somewhat out of the running for achieving “herd immunity.”

But this does not mean the two vaccine brands aren’t useful. Even if these two can’t guarantee “herd immunity,” all the available vaccines are believed to reduce the ill effects arising from Covid-19 infections.

Thus, even if a vaccine has only 50 percent efficacy, it can still spare hundreds of thousands from hospitalizations, chronic health issues and death.

It is precisely for this reason some Filipino doctors inoculated themselves with Sinovac’s vaccine because the vaccine is said to protect against severe or critical symptoms of the disease.

Doctors call this “functional immunity,” which is the true meaning of “better than nothing.”

All these now lead us to one difficult challenge: What do we really want to achieve in our vaccination journey — personally helpful “functional immunity” or socially responsible “herd immunity?”

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