Anti-COVID vaccine not the be all, end all

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - May 29, 2020 - 12:00am

Almost three months after being rudely interrupted by the virus-driven lockdown, our weekly news forum Kapihan sa Manila Bay is back into action. In compliance with the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) that was first imposed last March 15, we temporarily suspended our breakfast news forum that we hold every Wednesday at Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle, Malate.

The entire metropolitan Manila area at that early is among the hardest hit by the 2019 coronavirus disease (C19) contagion pandemic. A few days before the month-long ECQ took effect in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon, we had San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora as featured guest in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay. It was at the wake of the first three cases of local community transmissions of C19 infection in the Philippines that were traced to a local Muslim prayer center at Unimart in Greenhills, San Juan City.

Unfortunately, from then on, more C19 infection cases erupted and spread out to various parts of the country.

Thus, President Rodrigo Duterte reactivated the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Health (DOH). This was after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared on March 11 that C19 infection has become pandemic contagion.

Incidentally, this was on the same day we marked the fifth year anniversary of our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum. Thanks to modern-day information communication technology, we joined last Wednesday the rest of the “virtual pressers” now using video-audio conferencing platform. We registered our Kapihan sa Manila Bay with the Zoom Webinar.

With physical or social distancing as one of the basic protections against catching C19 infection, the so-called “virtual pressers” have become part of the “new normal” in conducting press conference. Instead of the traditional face-to-face interaction with members of media, the “virtual pressers” are deemed the safest mode.

Both government offices and the private sector, not just media, now make use of this modern video communications that is easy, reliable cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, collaboration, chat, and webinars across mobile devices, desktops, telephones, and room systems.

Now I know why Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House ways and means committee, is itching to tax the so-called “digital economy.” The principal author of a number of tax reform bills approved into law by President Duterte, Salceda noted the “digital economy” have become extra profitable venture while the C19 pandemic is raging across the world.

President Duterte has so far extended four times already the lockdown in our country based from the 14-day quarantine review being done by the IATF. The latest lockdown – where Metro Manila and six other Luzon provinces classified as “high-risk transitioning areas” have been downgraded to modified ECQ – lapses this Saturday, May 30. The 17 Metro Manila Mayors have recommended to re-classify the national capital region under as “low-risk areas” on potential resurgence of C19 and therefore qualified to be downgraded to general community quarantine (GCQ).

While we are trying to grapple with C19 contagion, President Duterte has expanded the reach and coverage of the IATF. From an original eight members, DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III disclosed yesterday, the IATF is now composed of 33 various government agencies that President Duterte added in order to stop the spread of C19 infection all over the country.

President Duterte has offered P50 million-reward money to be given to any Filipino or groups here that could develop the anti-C19 vaccine. In his public address last Monday night, the President noted scientists and doctors around the world have been “feverishly” working on to find the best formula to create the vaccine to fight C19 infection.  

While the vaccine against C19 has yet to be developed, we asked the country’s top doctors in the government, academe, and private sector medical specialists if vaccines could really be the answer to our lockdown woes. For this purpose, we invited to our Kapihan sa Manila Bay “virtual presser,” namely, DOH undersecretary Dr. Ma. Rosario S.Vergeire; Dr. Troy Gepte, public epidemiologist and chairman of the New Era University College of Medicine, department of community medicine; Dr. Angelina Tan who is also the Congresswoman of Quezon Province and chairs the House committee on health; and, Dr. Lourdes Bravo, head of the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Study Group.

According to Vergeire, there are now 110 candidate vaccines being tested by scientists around the world. According to her, this is why our country is participating in the “Solidarity Trial” being conducted by the WHO for vaccines against the C19 infection.

From her own experience of 33 years, Bravo asserted it is wishful thinking there would be anti-C19 vaccine that can be developed in the immediate future. Bravo, who is also the executive director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination, recalled how it took decades even more than 100 years of research and development to come up with 100% efficacy of any vaccine. She cited as example the search for vaccine against HIV which has not been developed after more than 40 years of continuing efforts.

As soon as the C19 vaccine is developed, President Duterte vowed earlier it will not take a minute longer he would immediately lift the quarantine all over the country. He reiterated this promise last Monday saying he would even be the one to push Filipinos to go out of their houses once the C19 vaccine is found. For now, the President appeals to the public to take care of themselves until there is C19 vaccine which he prays to come in January 2021.

Our medical experts shared the President’s worry the C19 is here to linger on. In the meantime, we can only stay healthy and continue with our hygienic ways of living to protect us always from C19 infection. But the vaccine apparently is not the be all and end all of this pandemic contagion.

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