Vaccine nation
Touch: So many people miss this small but vital part of what makes the Filipino culture special. Is there a way to return to how we were before?
Image: Mat Napo via Unsplash

Vaccine Nation: The way to safely reunite with loved ones by Christmas

BROAD CAST - Jing Castañeda (Philstar.com) - May 3, 2021 - 11:40am

For a long while now, the Philippines, just like the rest of the world, has had to go without touch because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So many people miss this small but vital part of what makes the Filipino culture special. It is like we haven't been ourselves for more than a year because many of our cultural and colloquial mannerisms unfortunately breach social distancing protocols.

When we saw our friends and relatives before the pandemic, we would tenderly touch our cheek to theirs, greeting them hello with love. When we visited our elders and greeted them with respect, we offered our foreheads to their hands for a blessing. We sat by their sides, supporting their weight against our own and holding their hands during Holy Mass.

We shook hands with new acquaintances who, by the end of good first meetings, we would bid goodbye with a light hug and beso. We shared straws and utensils, didn't mind eating from the same plate as our friends, when there weren't enough plates for everyone during parties. We were big fans of sitting down to communal boodle fights and digging in with our hands. We absolutely loved gathering around people who blew candles out on their birthdays, singing loudly as one happy, tight-knit family.

Even when coming home after a long day at the office, we would seek out our loved ones before anything else and give them a kiss to express that we are happy to be with them again without needing to say any words at all.

So it is such a huge relief each time the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announces that it has once more granted Emergency Use Approvals (EUAs) to additional vaccines. Having more vaccines available in the country brings us one step closer to going back to our touch-centric culture.

The race to the EUA (Emergency Use Approval)

As of mid-April, the FDA has already granted Emergency Use Approvals (EUAs) to the following vaccines: Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Gamaleya, J&J, and a conditional EUA to Covaxin (conditional on its submission of Good Manufacturing Practices certification from any country that is a member of the Pharmaceutical Inspection Cooperation Scheme).

We've discussed the first five vaccines in our previous episodes of Pamilya Talk.  So in last week's episode, we focused on Covaxin which had just gotten its conditional EUA last April 20.


The Philippines is the ninth country to grant the EUA to Covaxin. It is the first indigenously-developed COVID19 vaccine in India by Bharat Biotech, in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research.  IP Biotech is the official distributor in the Philippines, while Ambitech Biopharmaceuticals Inc. (Ambitech) is its consolidator.

My guest, Dr. Noel Miranda (a specialist in zoonosis and pandemic preparedness, and IP Biotech's scientific advisor) explained that Covaxin has an 81% efficacy rate and is a traditional inactivated vaccine. If you recall, we learned from Dr. Benjamin Co of Cardinal Santos Hospital during our previous episode, that inactivated vaccines do not replicate and are therefore unlikely to revert and cause pathological effects. They contain the dead virus, which is incapable of infecting people but is still able to instruct the human immune system to generate an immunological response against infection.

“We know inactivated vaccines' historical safety data,” Dr. Miranda said. It is a platform that uses a tried-and-tested method to produce vaccines. Dr. Miranda even went on to say that many people, including myself, may very well have already been inoculated with an inactivated vaccine, especially if we have ever gotten a flu shot, rotavirus or polio vaccination.

polio vaccination 1980s
A member of the U.S. military service's 46th Medical Company inoculates a child with a polio and tuberculosis vaccine at a U.S. military base in Honduras in November 1983.
The U.S. National Archives

Bharat's Covaxin is administered in two doses, 14 days apart. Possible side-effects include pain, swelling, itching, fever, body aches and weakness, rashes, nausea and dizziness.

Is there a 'better' vaccine?

At an online media forum earlier this year, UP-National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Director and Department of Health Technical Advisory Group member Dr. Edsel Salvana observed that most people focus on the vaccine efficacy to prevent the disease in general.

"Let's look at the vaccine efficacy to prevent severe disease. Because that's our main problem with COVID, that it is fatal, in about 2% to 5% of people," Salvana said.

At the briefing, he went on to define vaccine efficacy as the result of clinical trials while vaccine effectiveness as "what happens in the real world."

"This includes the people who don't want to be vaccinated or did not return for the second dose. So, generally the vaccine effectiveness will be lower than our vaccine efficacy, but we know what the ideal is and that is what the vaccine efficacy will show," he said.

South Korea COVID-19 vaccination
South Korean Olympic judo team member An Ba-ul receives the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine during a vaccination program for the country's Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics team at the National Medical Center in Seoul on April 29, 2021.
AFP/Chung Sung-Jun, pool
Covaxin COVID-19 vaccine India
A medical worker prepares a jab of the Covaxin Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine, at a health centre in New Delhi on April 29, 2021.
AFP/Tauseef Mustafa


Given that there is a lot of potentially confusing data being shared about vaccines and their efficacy, Dr. Miranda reminded us that every vaccine that is being given to people around the world has been proven to work. That is what is important. “Let's not fall into the trap of comparing the vaccines,” he said. “Because the context of each of them is different.”

Instead, we should opt to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Knowing that most vaccination drives throughout history, like those for smallpox and polio, were intended on limiting rather than eradicating the disease, the 81% efficacy rate of Covaxin against COVID-19 is actually quite encouraging, and will put the country firmly on the road to herd immunity.

Connecting families once more

In the end, more vaccines mean more chances of getting inoculated sooner rather than later, ensuring that we are reunited with the ones that we love. More vaccines give us the audacity to dream that we will once again be together for Christmas, something that seemed like a pipedream earlier this year. With more vaccines approved, more people have the chance to restore integral and meaningful connections that we have all terribly missed.

But we must act fast.

Official distributor IP Biotech Inc. announced in March that it had managed to secure an allocation of 8 million for the Philippines in 2021. This was supposed to be delivered in early April, however the FDA had yet to grant the EUA, which is needed to import the doses into the country.

Now, considering what is going on in the rest of the world and especially in India, it is possible that part of the Philippine allocation has been lost or taken by another country, or maybe even expired as we were not allowed to import them as soon as they were allocated. We can only hope that from here on in, all the vaccines who are approved by the FDA are given the full and unconditional support that is necessary to get those doses to the Philippines, into our arms, as soon as possible.

Please watch Pamilya Talk on Facebook, YouTube and Kumu (@JingCastaneda – 6 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 7 p.m. Tuesday). Please share your stories or suggest topics at jingcastaneda21@gmail.com. You can also follow and send your comments via my social media accounts: Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Kumu.

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