Getting the second dose, fighting hesitancy

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - June 22, 2021 - 12:00am

Bringing in vaccines against COVID-19 and keeping infection rates low are currently the two biggest concerns of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases. Unfortunately, but it won’t be long before other problems related to the country’s goal of achieving herd immunity rear up.

Currently, the vaccination rate is slowly inching up as more doses are brought in from suppliers and donors. The latest count on supply commitments is up to 190 million doses, good enough for two jabs for 95 million Filipinos. In terms of the goal of achieving herd immunity, that’s not a bad number considering that many poor countries are receiving far less as donations or in purchases.

As an emerging middle-income economy, the Philippine government has been able to set aside enough funds to buy vaccines, as well as for the supporting infrastructure and operations to bring those jabs to Filipinos. Vaccines against COVID-19 are not cheap, and the cost of bringing them all over the archipelago into the arms of our countrymen adds up to a hefty sum.

As with most vaccines, refrigeration is a requirement. Packing them in ice and transporting them to far-flung barrios will definitely test the mettle of our public health system, as well as the longer-term commitment of our public health officials.

In rural areas where more than half of the country’s population reside, dispatching teams of medical frontline workers to remote villages will be more challenging, and will likely bring vaccination efforts to a crawl.

Information gap

In cities and big municipalities, though, the challenge will be in getting people who have received their first doses to go for that all-important second dose. Already, early data showed that about half of the first-dose recipients missed their second shots.

In a world where two-dose vaccinations are novel, there is not enough information going around to explain why people need to get the full dosage of two jabs to acquire the needed protection against COVID-19 in its original, and now, many mutant strains.

Almost all the coronavirus vaccines in the market now require two doses, to be given by about a month apart. The science says that the first does only prepares the immune system to fight against COVID-19 infection. The second dose is what triggers the immune system to produce the necessary numbers of anti-bodies, which in turn leads to immunity.

The folly of ignoring the second all-important dose is, aside from putting to waste all the resources spent on delivering the first dose, is to expose oneself to infection, thereby contributing to the spread of false information about the vaccine’s inability to fight the virus.

Infection surge

Already, vaccination hesitancy-especially in densely populated areas is a big problem fueled by neighborhood face-to-face gossiping and popular social media networks like Facebook. When millions are lulled into complacency after getting only one dose, infection is likely to surge.

A first dose does not even ensure that infected persons will not be hospitalized. Especially since the million who had missed the second dose belong to the top A-level categories (health frontline workers, seniors, and people with co-morbidities), the risk of intensive care admittance in hospitals is higher.

Early enough, city and municipal healthcare officials must come up with plans to go after those who missed their second dose, even if this requires going out on home visits.

Only after getting the second dose will the body reproduce enough memory cells to remember over the long term what injection it received, and thus, help produce anti-bodies quick enough to fight off an infection.

Getting the job done

We will know sure soon enough the real level of vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos as more vaccines are made available for use to an expanded segment of the population. Last month’s survey by the Social Weather Station showed that the 1,200 respondents polled were split almost equally in three: those willing to be vaccinated, those against, and those hesitating.

The spread of false information about vaccines, or even the news carried by legitimate media about a few adverse reactions without contextualizing it to the unaffected millions who had received the vaccine, is enough reason for the government come up with more effective communication plans.

In the country’s urban abodes where the use of digital communication tools is high, the government’s propaganda machine is not gaining as much viewership compared to the more popular channels run by private news carriers.

Intensified public engagement through popular media is necessary to win over those who are unsure, and to arm those who believe in vaccines with enough information to personally convince those that have become caught in the narrow algorithms of virus and vaccine conspiracy theories.

Local government-initiated raffles apparently have helped convince quite a number to sign up for vaccination, but there is no substitute to being armed with the correct information about the need to be vaccinated.

We cannot afford to start this vaccination war against the virus without going through it with resoluteness and conviction. A half-baked job will definitely result in failure. Vaccination with the end-view of achieving herd immunity has been the panacea of this administration to a full reopening of the economy and a return to normal.

The country has been in various stages of lockdown for the last 15 months, and this has taken a toll not only in terms of lowering our gross national product (GDP), but also in significantly reducing incomes of many Filipino families.

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net

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