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Opinion

Mutating

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Earlier this month when I got my first dose of COVID vaccine, I looked away so I would not see the needle entering my arm.

I’ve always done this in the numerous times that my body has been penetrated by needles for medicine, blood testing and intravenous feeding or drug treatment. I have no fear of injection, but I always look away before the needle is plunged.

Having been injected so many times, I am also familiar with the feeling of the content of the syringe or IV tube entering my vein or beneath my skin.

So even if I looked away and was unable to take a selfie when I got my first COVID dose, I am pretty sure the vaccine was administered.

Other people, however, are now having doubts. We know the reason: that viral video showing a woman in Makati getting injected, but not getting the dose since the vaccinator did not push down the syringe plunger.

As already explained by Makati Mayor Abby Binay, it was an honest mistake by a volunteer vaccinator, and the woman who made the recording received her shot the next day.

I believe the explanation; I salute the dedication of our health workers. But I also believe human mistakes are possible, especially among exhausted workers. So for my second dose, I will still look away when the needle is injected, but I intend to watch and make sure the plunger is pushed down. It would also be advisable for everyone to do the same, just in case distracted health workers have similar lapses.

My bigger concern is whether the vaccines are enough to protect against the more virulent coronavirus variants, especially the so-called Delta plus first detected, like the original Delta mutation, in India.

*      *      *

Based on flare-ups in countries that are ahead in vaccination, the Delta mutant is evading different brands of vaccines.

The UK, the first country to use the Pfizer-BioNTech jab followed by AstraZeneca, has been forced to tighten restrictions because of rising Delta infections. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has since opted for a Moderna shot as her second dose after getting the AstraZeneca as first jab.

Israel, which is ahead in the full vaccination of its population and which has used mainly the Pfizer jab, is also seeing outbreaks.

Epidemiologists are studying the infection of 340 doctors in Indonesia who were fully vaccinated with the China-made Sinovac shots.

The Wall Street Journal, in a report datelined June 27 from Singapore quoting the Indonesian Medical Association, said at least 10 of the 26 doctors who died of COVID this June had been fully vaccinated with Sinovac. Over a five-month period, the group said, at least 20 doctors who died of COVID were fully vaccinated with the Sinovac jab.

Other reports said experts are still studying the exact cause of the deaths.

Health experts have stressed that COVID infection is still possible even for the fully vaccinated, regardless of the brand. But all the COVID vaccines are supposed to protect against severe or critical infection, hospitalization and death, so the report on Sinovac use in Indonesia is particularly troubling.

Philippine health experts have stressed that the doctors in Indonesia, obviously because of their profession, had high exposure to COVID infection. Sinovac clinical trials in Brazil involving high-risk healthcare workers showed the vaccine provided only 50.4 percent protection against mild or asymptomatic infection, but a much higher percentage against moderate and severe cases. So what’s happening in Indonesia?

If the government wants COVID containment or protection by Christmas this year, it may have to reassess its vaccine portfolio or else consider the procurement of booster shots for the fully vaccinated.

Some people are now considering getting a different brand for their second dose, or else getting a third shot as booster – subject to the availability of vaccines, of course.

With only about four percent of the population getting their first dose so far, however, booster shots at this point are only a dream.

*      *      *

According to Our World in Data, with the 10 million doses administered so far in the country, only 2.3 percent of the total population has been fully vaccinated.

That’s a long way from the percentage of the population inoculated in the large countries leading in the vaccination rollout. (Because of their tiny populations, the small islands like Gibraltar and Seychelles are way ahead. So is the city-state of Singapore, with 36.1 percent of its population fully vaccinated and 5.03 million doses administered so far.) As of two days ago, Bahrain was leading the pack, with 59.4 percent of its population fully vaccinated. Israel followed with 57 percent; Chile, 54.4 percent; Hungary, 49.5 percent; the UK, 48.7 percent, and the US, 46.6 percent.

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines lags behind Cambodia, with 17.5 percent of its population fully vaccinated; Laos, 7.3 percent; Malaysia, 6.3 percent; Indonesia, 4.8 percent; Thailand, 3.7 percent, and Brunei, 3 percent. Our 2.3 percent is the same as Myanmar’s.

Only Vietnam trails the Philippines in the vaccine rollout – 0.2 percent of Vietnamese have been fully inoculated. But Vietnam’s COVID case numbers are also much lower, with an enviable total from the start of only 16,136 infections, with 6,519 recoveries and 78 deaths as of last Monday.

Filipinos also keep remembering that if the government hadn’t dropped the ball last year in its desire to flood the country with vaccines made in China, we could have had 10 million doses of the Pfizer jabs way back in January. That would have been five million people saved from severe COVID and possible death.

Today 40 million Pfizer doses are on the way – with about half tentatively expected this July, and the rest in October. Considering the outbreaks of infections attributed to the Delta variant in several advanced economies, however, expect the supply of Western vaccines to tighten again.

The coronavirus is managing to stay a step ahead of the vaccines and experimental treatments, threatening pandemic recovery and fueling vaccine hesitancy.

We’re all still groping our way through uncharted territory with the constantly mutating coronavirus. Considering the risks, vaccination is still better than no protection at all. Just make sure the plunger is pushed down for your jab.

COVID-19 VACCINE
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