Leap of faith

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - March 5, 2021 - 12:00am

Last Friday in Providence, Rhode Island, Father Nicanor Austriaco of the OCTA Research Group got his second dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine.

Following his first dose, Father Nic had experienced chills that disappeared after he had slept for six hours straight.

This time, after the second dose, the molecular biologist says that for an entire day, he felt as sick as if he had full-blown flu. And so did several of the other Dominican clergy who got the COVID shots along with him.

But all the afflictions disappeared after a day. And those were not unexpected reactions to vaccines, Father Nic stressed by videostream from the US last Wednesday night on OneNews’ “The Chiefs.”

Now the professor of biology and theology describes completing his vaccination as a liberating experience.

The vaccine he received, made by US biotech firm Moderna, has a 94.5 percent efficacy against COVID – the confirmed second highest in the world, after the jab produced by Pfizer-BioNTech (95 percent), and ahead of the third – Russian research center Gamaleya’s Sputnik V (92 percent).

The efficacy of Oxford / AstraZeneca’s vaccine, as shown in studies, rose from 76 percent to 82.4 percent when the period between the two doses is longer, at least 12 weeks.

We don’t have peer-reviewed confirmed efficacy results for the China-made vaccines yet.

As infectious disease experts have pointed out, there is no vaccine against any disease that provides 100 percent immunity. But the vaccines approved for emergency use against COVID have been found to be effective in protecting the jab recipient from developing moderate to severe infections that require hospitalization (and possible death), with varying efficacies for the milder forms.

A fully vaccinated person may still pick up the virus and transmit it to others. This is why basic health safety protocols will still be enforced until herd immunity is deemed achieved (which could be in 2023).

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There’s a global movement against all types of vaccines; it encouraged resistance particularly to the jabs against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). And its adherents have been active following the rollout of the COVID immunization program.

In recent days, they have raised questions about the still uncertain risk of side effects, given the record speed in the production and distribution of the vaccines against COVID-19.

They point out the lack of indemnity from the vaccine makers in case of adverse side effects – an arrangement that is allowed under emergency use.

And they note that vaccination does not completely stop transmission, so certain health protocols must remain in place. Meaning masks must still be worn and distancing still observed, affecting businesses.

They cite the adverse reactions reported so far: allergies, from mild to life-threatening; deaths under investigation for possible links to certain vaccines, including the jabs of Pfizer (debunked in Norway), Sinovac (under study in Indonesia), and now AstraZeneca in South Korea.

Some of the points raised are valid. A single drug typically takes up to a decade to develop, from inception in a laboratory to hurdling global regulatory authorities and finally to commercial distribution.

Now, just over a year after the outbreak of the most virulent disease to hit the entire planet in a century, we have not just one but several vaccines.

Time is indispensable for accurate testing of the efficacy of any drug. Obviously, it’s impossible at this point to determine the long-term impact on humans of all the available vaccines.

But time is a luxury the world doesn’t have at this point. This is a world war against a lethal, invisible enemy. We need to fight back with every weapon at our disposal.

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Epidemiologists have pointed out that viruses can linger even after vaccines become available, like the flu virus. Some viruses, like the one that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS, dissipated on their own, for unknown reasons, without vaccines.

COVID-19, however, has shown unusual virulence. Will we wait for the coronavirus to kill 500 million people, like the Spanish flu did in 1918, until only survivors with antibodies are left on the planet and the virus runs out of hosts?

Vaccination does not mean the immediate lifting of COVID restrictions. Variants are emerging and boosters are being rushed to make the available vaccines work against the mutations.

What the vaccines are doing, however, is saving recipients from hospitalization and possible death. The vaccines’ track record in preventing asymptomatic or mild cases may be unreliable, but in an emergency, protection from serious infection is better than being completely vulnerable – and the possibility of infecting (and, heaven forbid, killing) those close to you.

A moral dimension has even been injected into this public health crisis.

US bishops have warned Catholics against taking the Janssen vaccine of Johnson & Johnson, which reportedly used aborted fetuses for both trial and production of the jab. I still prefer this single-dose vaccine, though, because I want to reduce my risk of anaphylaxis or a repeat of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, which nearly killed me, and which I got from sulfanilamide powder applied on a tiny flea bite when I was a toddler.

With all the caveats given about practically all the COVID jabs (some more than others), it’s a leap of faith to accept vaccination.

We need to save lives, starting with our own, and we need to get our life back.

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