Celebrating small victories

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

Just as we are about to celebrate the coming Christmas season with renewed hope that things are getting better, we have been startled by news that another COVID-19 variant of concern is raising red flags in many parts of the world.

Little is still known about the Omicron variant, but it should serve as a reminder to everyone that it is too early to celebrate and to let our guards down.

There are those who say that the vaccines that we are getting right now are not effective against this new variant. Even the head of vaccine maker Moderna, chief executive Stephane Bancel, has said COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus as they have been previously. He said that the high number of mutations on the protein spike the virus uses to infect human cells meant it was likely the current crop of vaccines would need to be modified, adding that it could take months to begin shipping a vaccine that does work against Omicron. The new variant is said to have 26 unique spike mutations compared with 10 in the Delta variant and six in Beta.

There are reports that the mRNA vaccines like Moderna’s and Pfizer-BioNTech’s were formulated using technology that would allow rapid modification. A spokesperson for Pfizer, Jerica Pitts, revealed that Pfizer scientists can adapt the current vaccine within six weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days in the event of an escape variant that eludes the immune system.

As for Moderna, reports say that it could update its current vaccine in about two months. Both Pfizer and Moderna plan to also test booster shots to see if they will bolster the immune system enough to fend off the new variant.


The world cannot prevent the coronavirus from mutating.

Take the case of pneumonia. There are two pneumococcal vaccines – PPSV 23, which protects against 23 strains of pneumococcal bacteria that account for about 90 to 95 percent of the strains that cause pneumonia in humans; and PCV 13, which is a conjugate vaccine that protects against 13 strains. However, it is still possible to get pneumonia even if you’ve received either or both shots since each is just about 50 to 70 percent effective only and efficacy varies based on age and how strong one’s immune system is. Pneumonia can also be caused by viruses and fungi, just like how the coronavirus is causing severe pneumonia in some. And by getting influenza, measles, pertussis, varicella, and even COVID-19 vaccines, one lowers his risk of being infected by the bacteria or viruses that cause pneumonia.

Among adults, the flu virus is said to be the traditional cause of viral pneumonia, while the respiratory syncytial virus is the leading cause of viral pneumonia in children. However, SARS-COV 2 or the virus that causes COVID-19 is now contributing to increasing cases of pneumonia worldwide. Meanwhile, the pathogen S pneumonia is reportedly the leading cause of bacterial pneumonia.

Symptoms of pneumonia were first described by the Greek physician Hippocrates around 460 BC according to one source. In 1875, a German pathologist observed pneumonia bacteria under a microscope for the first time and in the 1880s, Carl Friedlander and Albert Frankel, identified two of the most common bacterial causes of pneumonia. Inspite of many years of study and efforts to prevent and treat pneumonia, there are still about 150 million new cases of pneumonia each year, of which 11 million to 20 million or seven to 13 percent are severe enough to require hospital admission. Most of such cases occur in children.

More than 263.1 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019, and 5.48 million have died.

Imagine how long it would take and how much will have to be spent before we can have a real understanding of the coronavirus and its many mutations.


The coronavirus is not going to disappear, but in the future, it can probably be prevented and cured through cheaper means.

In the meantime, what are we going to do about it?

Countries more powerful, richer, and with advanced technology are still grappling to find ways to contain the spread of the virus. Those that thought that they had already contained it are now experiencing new waves of infection and surges, and are back to imposing lockdowns.

According to Reuters, the US and Germany have joined countries around the globe in planning stricter COVID-19 restrictions because of the new Omicron variant. About 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures to guard against Omicron.

In the Philippines, the government has imposed travel restrictions on seven European countries and has flagged 14 countries and regions with reported Omicron cases so far. It has suspended flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique.

Our vaccination efforts continue, with more people now eligible to receive booster shots.

Meanwhile, our Departmentof Science and Technology (DOST) continues with its clinical studies to determine if virgin coconut oil (VCO), lagundi, and tawa-tawa can indeed be used as adjuvant therapy for COVID-19.

In fairness to DOST, there have been promising results from the studies, so we should not be quick to dismiss the department’s campaign as a failure.

DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña said that in community-level trials, VCO showed promise as an adjunct supplement to suspect and probable cases due to its viral and immunomodulatory properties, adding that the most important finding is that those that are in the group that took VCO had an earlier recovery period.

In the case of lagundi, however, the results of the clinical trials were quite disturbing. According to a report from the UP NIH, there is an “insignificant difference in the clinical recovery time of mild COVID patients who were given 600 milligrams (mg) of lagundi formulation every day compared to the placebo group.”

The lagundi group on average recovered from cough after six days, while the placebo group recovered after 5.4 days. But the lagundi group is said to have recovered from loss of smell faster.

There are no significant results yet as of this time for tawa-tawa.

Still, the resources allocated by DOST to prove that we can produce natural COVID remedies did not entirely go to waste, with the VCO trials showing promising results for its anti-viral properties and for boosting the immune system. Our primary enemy here is the virus and not the symptoms, so it is but right to focus on the effectiveness of the treatment against the virus.

It is more prudent for the DOST to just put all their efforts into further studying VCO, including the standards that need to be set in its formulation or preparation to be truly effective against COVID-19.We already have an advanced VCO industry in the country, with several companies already exporting it. The DOST should now work with the industry in setting the standards and making sure these are followed religiously.

If we succeed in ascertaining the anti-viral properties of VCO, imagine the huge benefits that will be enjoyed by our coconut farmers who remain to be among the poorest sectors in Philippine agriculture.



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