To live or not to live

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2021 - 12:00am

When English country doctor Edward Jenner inoculated the 8-year-old son of his gardener with cowpox in 1796, little did he know that his experiment would result in a great scientific milestone that would revolutionize the concept of preventive medicine through vaccination. Since then, scientists over the centuries have followed Jenner’s model to develop vaccines to fight numerous deadly and debilitating diseases – from smallpox to polio to measles, hepatitis, influenza, typhoid fever and many others that are considered life-threatening. Through vaccination, people develop immunity or protection against certain diseases, resulting in millions of lives saved every year.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc all over the world, with over two million people dead and 94 million infected, the need for a vaccine has become apparent now more than ever. Unfortunately, there are people who propagate fake narratives and false information about vaccines, with wild claims that vaccines will alter human DNA, or that they will be used to implant microchips that will track people. Some anti-vaccine groups are not also above spreading misinformation or conducting disinformation campaigns on social media to sow doubts against immunization and undermine plans for vaccination – long before any COVID-19 vaccine was developed and granted emergency use authorization.

Even here in the United States, many Americans are not predisposed to having vaccine shots despite the fact that the US is reeling from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic with 400,000 deaths and close to 24 million cases of infection. As one health expert told me, the arguments being made against vaccination today are reminiscent of the fear mongering that happened more than two centuries ago when the smallpox vaccine was first introduced.

In the Philippines, a survey by Pulse Asia showed that although 95 percent of Filipinos are aware about COVID-19 vaccines, only 32 percent are willing to be inoculated, 47 percent are not willing to get the shots and 21 percent can’t make up their minds. An independent survey by OCTA Research Group also revealed that only 25 percent of respondents in Metro Manila are willing to get a shot when the vaccines become available.

However, the World Health Organization believes new surveys must be conducted now that emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccines have been issued, with the public becoming more aware about safety and efficacy.

I share the belief of health experts that our best hope for ending the pandemic is through safe and effective vaccines, and it is incumbent upon people to realize that it’s not only for their own good but also for people around them, especially their loved ones.

I came across an interesting presentation by Dr. DP Prakash of the American Eyecare and Lasik Center in Chennai regarding COVID-19 vaccines. Published in CME India as a topic under “The Hamlet Conundrums,” the piece discussed whether one should get vaccinated or not.

“When COVID was running amok and spreading like wildfire, everyone of us was praying for a vaccine as early as possible,” he said. Even now, COVID-19 is in its second peak in many countries like the US and the UK. But suddenly, “almost every WhatsApp university certified specialist” is questioning the speed with which some vaccines were approved, with everyone suddenly seeming to know about phase two and phase three vaccine trials, comparing efficacy rates, complication incidences and other information that should be discussed within the scientific domain but has become WhatsApp fodder, Dr. Prakash lamented.

“If you in your WhatsApp educated PhD mind feel that you are not in any emergency, then you deny yourself that vaccine,” he said, conceding that whether one wants to be vaccinated or not is purely a matter of choice. But he also stressed that when you refuse the vaccine, “you take that extra risk which your neighbors haven’t taken. That’s the bottom line.”

While acknowledging that no vaccine can protect against any disease 100 percent all the time, Dr. Prakash makes a compelling argument that it provides an easier way of attaining herd immunity than the natural infection caused by the coronavirus.

“Any COVID vaccine is safer than getting infected with the virus and fighting for survival in an ICU with a ventilator in your throat,” he emphasized, explaining that the vaccine should be regarded as “an additional safety measure along with masks, social distancing and hand hygiene, not as a replacement. This we have to accept until the world develops herd immunity from COVID just like smallpox or polio,” he said.

“Either get infected or get vaccinated… or stay forever in a bubble distanced from other people. The choice is yours,” Dr. Prakash challenged.

The fact is, even the WHO has indicated that despite the rollout of vaccines in many countries, it’s highly unlikely for 70 percent herd immunity to be achieved this year. WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan also issued an appeal for people to be “a little patient” since the rollout of vaccines will take time – but they are going to come. Meanwhile, people must continue practicing safety measures such as hygiene and social distancing, she said.

Fortunately in the Philippines, the people are more compliant when it comes to the wearing of masks and full face shields, with many taking extra efforts to prevent contamination or infection by disinfecting everything they touch. I really hope that 70 percent of our people will take the vaccine once it’s made available to achieve local herd immunity. To paraphrase William Shakespeare’s words: “to live or not to live” – that is the question we should ask ourselves.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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