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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Population immunity

“Get vaccinated. Please.”

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The Department of Health recently announced that the country has overcome the Omicron crisis. With a little more than a thousand cases being reported daily, the country is back to being low risk. Metro Manila mayors already agreed on placing the region under Alert Level 1 next month. Meanwhile, neighboring countries such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, and South Korea are still dealing with the Omicron surge.

The government’s national vaccination drive clearly helped against the worst case scenarios posed by COVID-19. Despite the surge during the holiday season, the majority of the cases were mild and manageable. Needless to say, our experience with Omicron substantiates the studies we read about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

If our experience does not convince you enough, look at Singapore and Japan, both of which have notably high immunization rates against COVID-19. Both posed record high infection rates during the Omicron surge but significantly fewer deaths. Singapore saw a rising number of infections yet a controlled number of critical cases in hospitals. Singaporean authorities reportedly attributed the milder cases and manageable ICU occupancy to the high vaccination rate which currently stands at 96 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated. Japan reportedly recorded high deaths in elderly facilities and related this to the low rate of older people receiving booster shots. Hong Kong, which currently has one of the worst outbreaks in Asia, noted that almost 90 percent of the deaths recorded in their fifth wave of COVID-19 were unvaccinated patients. Reports show that authorities appeal to the public to get vaccinated.

As the Department of Health announced, we can further ease restrictions if we meet the suitable conditions for the new normal—low reproduction rate and low health care utilization rate. At present, it seems that the country is ready for this. However, another relevant factor we need to consider is the vaccination rate.

As presented in this week’s Talk to the Nation, the national vaccination rate as of February 21 is only at 69 percent of the target 90 million Filipinos, while there are an estimated 2.4 to 3 million senior citizens who have yet to receive the vaccine. Pediatric vaccination, on the other hand, is ongoing.

We can surmise that vaccine hesitancy remains, especially among the elderly. The national government intends to conduct house-to-house and mobile vaccination for greater access to people. While we hope for the success of these two proposals, I reiterate my call to the Department of Health to conduct discussions on vaccine hesitancy and vaccine efficacy at the grassroots or barangay level. Having doctors and other medical professionals who can answer questions directly on site can help address doubts and assure the unvaccinated public. We should also take into account that comorbidities may add to their unwillingness. Perhaps, the doctors can also provide medical advice to those who are reluctant to get vaccinated.

I also urge the government to equitably distribute vaccines, especially in regions where both cases and vaccinations are low. Let us not forget that cases are low partly because of the increasing vaccination in the country. Should another surge occur, these regions are at most risk for another lockdown or, worse, high mortality.

Along with many others, I am hopeful that the new normal would be just a stone’s throw away. While cases are continuously declining, I urge the unvaccinated public not to get complacent. If we are to overcome this pandemic, it is important that everyone takes part in protecting everyone else, not only through practicing minimum health protocols but also by getting vaccinated. You do not only protect yourself but also the people around you. At the risk of being repetitive, I strongly and tirelessly urge the public to get fully vaccinated and, if eligible, get booster shots. Only then can we confidently say that the pandemic will soon end.


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