At this point in time, the world needs to reach herd immunity to beat the COVID-19 pandemic. Herd immunity pertains to the indirect protection of the populace for those still susceptible to the disease. An immense 60% to 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated to achieve it, medical experts say. A few months since the start of the vaccination rollout, only 18.87% of 70.85 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated with their second dose. At this rate, perhaps a COVID-free Philippines by the end of 2021 remains elusive.
“SARS-CoV-2 virus is a highly transmissible virus. We think it needs at least 60% to 70% of the population to have immunity to really break the chain of transmission,” World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminatha explained.
High herd immunity strikes the decline of COVID-19 transmissibility. Among its two paths, natural infection and vaccination, the latter is more safe and effective as it has been proven on various contagious diseases such as smallpox and polio. Vaccines develop antibodies to one's immune system when it detects a virus or bacteria, such as the COVID-19 virus.
Consequences of vaccine hesitancy
Faced with a global health crisis, many Filipinos felt uneasy with the rollout of the first and China-donated Sinovac vaccines last March 1. So much so that in March 2021, Pulse Asia survey reported that 6 in 10 Filipinos refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Meanwhile, the Social Weather Stations survey, from April 28 to May 2, revealed that merely 3 in 10 Filipinos are willing to be vaccinated with a free FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccine hesitancy stems from the fear of possible adverse effects, brand preferences, and conspiracy theories.
As debunked by medical experts, the strange “microchip” conspiracy theory is a myth. In fact, chips are too small to fit in the vaccine needle. Though the rare cases of blood clot in AstraZeneca vaccines in Australia are true, DOH reassured that this had not happened in the country.
Sinovac, Sputnik V, AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Bharat BioTech vaccines had all been granted an Emergency Use Authorization by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and underwent multiple clinical trials, ensuring their eligibility for use.
Serious side effects, according to WHO and as supported by medical experts, are “extremely rare.” One is anaphylaxis or a severe allergic reaction which affects two to five individuals per million. Reported serious adverse events in the country were said to be not COVID-19 vaccine-related upon investigation. DOST-Vaccine Expert Panel Chief Dr. Nina Gloriani confirmed, “The adverse events were due to other conditions of the patients.”
Usually, for one to three days, an inoculated individual experiences minor and temporary side effects, such as headache, fatigue, mild fever or sore arm, or none at all. These are treatable with over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
It is plausible to have well-informed decisions in vaccination; this includes awareness of its pros and cons. However, what we have to realize is that, in hindsight, we are exposing ourselves to similar life-threatening risks in the hands of COVID-19, and risking the lives of millions in the event that we refuse to be inoculated.
Waiting in the long line of the vaccination rollout
Boosting public vaccine confidence shares only a piece of the pie; a fast and proper distribution of vaccines is half of it. Other medical experts even say that the real issue isn’t vaccine hesitancy, rather the inability of the vaccine supply to meet the demands.
"In some situations, local governments are unable to keep up with the demand," said Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, Philippine WHO Representative. "So it's not actually an issue of vaccine hesitancy.” City mayors expressed the same sentiment on vaccine delivery delays and lack of supply which caused their closed vaccination sites.
In June, only 17.5 million out of the expected 21.8 million doses arrived in the country. Every month, the country falls short on its target end-of-the-month vaccine supply count. Furthermore, the global shortage of vaccines had us seemingly dependent on other countries for vaccine donations.
While there exists an ambitious goal of inoculating hundreds of thousands of Filipinos per day to meet at least 58 million, the reality is that around 57.46% of those who had their first jabs still have yet to receive their second doses of vaccine as of August 25.
As of August 25, around 13 million individuals have been fully vaccinated. Using the lower 58-million goal, this leaves us with 90 million jabs for the remaining 45 million Filipinos who are yet to be fully vaccinated. Counting the months before we reach December, an estimated 22.5 million jabs must be given per month to reach herd immunity by the end of 2021.
Looking at our figures, with half a million to ten million jabs per month, it is unlikely that we’ll be able to reach our goal without a steady and fast supply of vaccines. The government must also boost its information drive to remind others to have their second vaccine jabs.
Over 32,800 lives may have been saved with an earlier procurement of vaccines, including a 29-day-old infant, the country’s youngest COVID-19 fatality. As the death count continues to increase, the situation becomes more unbearable. We start to hear names of people we know; some even close to home.
Vaccination is not merely for our own protection, but for other vulnerable people with pre-existing medical conditions and comorbidities who have a high risk of dying from COVID-19.
To break the chain of transmission, it requires the public to follow strict health protocols and be vaccinated, and the government to do their part on informing the public, procuring vaccines, and executing the rollout.
In taking the fastest and safest route to recovery, everyone needs to take this shot.
This article is also published in The Benildean Volume 7 Issue No. 2: Restored.