Explanations, not expletives will encourage vaccinations

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Cussing COVID-19 vaccine hesitaters May 17, Rody Duterte barked, “If you don’t want to be injected, then don’t go out of your homes, so that you don’t infect others.” Three negatives in one sentence. Netizens’ reactions were as antagonistic. Where are the vaccines to begin with, many harrumphed. He’s just entrapping us with his favored China-made jabs, some sneered. Wasn’t he himself hesitant only days ago until he got his preferred vaccine brand, others noted? And this: What’s the point of inoculation, when makers temporize that it can prevent severe infection, but vaccinees can still transmit the coronavirus?

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. There’s scientific basis for what the President said about non-vaccinees being carriers. It just needs patient explaining.

It’s all about viral load, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III reiterated on Sapol-dwIZ Saturday. A vaccinee builds up immunity against SARS-CoV-2. In case of infection, his antibodies repel the multiplying virus, keeping the disease mild to avoid hospitalization and death. The carrier-vaccinee transmits fewer viruses too. A healthy person exposed to him catches only a low viral load and will survive.

Viral load was amplified in English-language medical journals at the start of the pandemic lockdown last year. But it was left largely unexplained to the public, as power-tripping officials and cops preoccupied themselves with don’ts: Don’t stay out, don’t congregate, don’t ride in tandem. Lost in the rulemaking and arrests was that viral load determines if the infection is mild, moderate or severe. Frequent and prolonged exposure, like in enclosed spaces packed with shouting crowds, increases the viral load -- and the likelihood of landing in the ICU or the crematorium. Those, not any bureaucrat’s say-so, are the reasons for physical distancing, frequent hand washing and face masking.

Vaccine efficacies are the result of laboratory studies. Makers hedge on their guarantees because the jabs are for mere emergency use.

But with millions of injections administered in scores of countries, scientists now have real world data. One is that vaccination lessens viral load.

Fourteen world experts prepared an “Initial Report of Decreased SARS-CoV-2 Viral Load After Inoculation with the BNT162b2 Vaccine.” The March 29, 2021 article in the Nature Medicine journal is frequently cited. Among the salient conclusions: “We found that the viral load was substantially reduced for infections occurring 12-27 days after the first dose of vaccine. These reduced viral loads hint at a potentially lower infectiousness, further contributing to vaccine effect on virus spread.” They referred to vaccinees of messenger or mRNA.

Two months later America’s Centers for Disease Control published similar findings. In its updated “Science Brief: COVID-19 Vaccines and Vaccination”, May 27, 2021, CDC stated:

• “People who are fully vaccinated with a currently authorized mRNA vaccine are protected against asymptomatic infection and, if infected, have a lower viral load than unvaccinated people.”

• “A growing body of evidence indicates that people fully vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) are less likely to have asymptomatic infection or to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others. Studies are underway to learn more about the benefits of Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine. However, the risk for SARS-CoV-2 infection in fully vaccinated people cannot be completely eliminated as long as there is continued community transmission of the virus.”

The local Departments of Health and of Science and Technology are to study actual results on Filipino vaccinees as well. Included are the “traditional” attenuated virus vaccines from China, Europe and America approved by the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration.

But vaccine availability remains iffy. Afflicted with the “mañana habit”, officials were late in procuring, legalizing and preparing for arrival of the vaccines.

Hesitancy remains high. Seventy five percent of Metro Manilans and 60 percent nationwide are reluctant, surveys show.

Accessibility is poor. Officials fail to inform the prioritized persons – the elderly and those with comorbidities – where and when the jabs are to be administered. They rely merely on barangay hall bulletin boards and Facebook posts. Often people who want to be vaccinated learn about the event only by word of mouth, a malady reported on AM-radio. Only 15 percent of senior citizens have been inoculated, Duque said.

Oddly, only half of vaccinees of the first dose have returned for the second. While 97 percent of medical frontline workers in Metro Manila have been injected once, 57 percent have yet to be given the second dose, Duque added. It’s unlikely for doctors, nurses and hospital workers to not know that they need the two doses for full efficacy. Probably their second jabs have not been delivered or scheduled.

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Catch “Sapol” radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

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