Boosting immunity

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

In the time of more virulent COVID variants, the race is no longer just to get vaccinated, but to get booster shots.

San Juan Rep. Ronnie Zamora, father of the city’s mayor, has led the way in the looming rush for boosters, after happily revealing in public that he already had not just two complete doses but four COVID shots: two way back in December with Sinopharm (obviously smuggled), and now, two doses of the much coveted Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The Pfizer boosters, Zamora said, were recommended by his doctors, since he has had heart and kidney surgeries.

For sure, there are many other people with similar comorbidities who would have wanted even a first dose of the Pfizer jab.

I personally know an elderly man with so many comorbidities including previous surgeries, who died of complications from COVID for lack of a vaccine. This was during last April’s surge. He had stayed at home since the start of the pandemic and was hoping to be inoculated with any vaccine.

His bereaved loved ones surely feel resentment over Congressman Zamora’s story. And that of the politician in Northern Samar, whoever the scumbag might be, who is now being investigated for having 12 Sinovac doses brought to his home for VIP inoculation of his household and security team.

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Zamora’s giddy revelation diminished the importance of the milestone event that he attended without wearing a mask: San Juan’s achievement of 100 percent first-dose vaccine coverage of its target population.

Having recorded the first local COVID transmission in the country, San Juan is determined to become the first local government unit (LGU) to declare herd immunity. The indefatigable Mayor Francis Zamora deserves commendation for a real achievement. Now if he could just tell dear dad to shut up about VIP entitlements…

Public officials should be sensitive to the immense suffering (and for those bereaved by the deaths of 26,000, profound sorrow) of people in this pandemic.

Relatives of some of the fatalities resent even special privileges reportedly accorded to the kin of some of the soldiers killed in the C-130 crash in Sulu. There are reports circulating about relatives from Canada of one of the deceased, who were exempted from the requisite facility quarantine upon arrival.

Other reports said one of the fatalities found positive for COVID was also not immediately cremated, and the body allowed to be shipped to his province. This not only poses serious health risks and violates the law on pandemic containment, but is painful for those whose loved ones, upon death from COVID, were immediately packed in bags, with no one allowed to take a look at the body for final goodbyes before cremation.

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Several A4 workers I know were looking forward to their second dose of COVID vaccine last Monday, and were so disappointed when they received text messages from their LGU in Metro Manila that the vaccines had run out and their jabs had to be postponed.

The message reassured them that the Department of Health All Experts Group on Vaccines had “considered acceptable” an interval between the first and second doses of “up to a period of 2-3 months.” The DOH, the message added, “has assured resupply in the following weeks.”

As far as I know, only the AstraZeneca jab provides stronger immunity with a longer interval of up to 12 weeks between the two doses. The rest of the vaccine brands require intervals of just two to four weeks.

A bigger concern for those who have received the China-made Sinovac jab is whether it can provide sufficient protection, especially if the country sees community transmission of the Delta variant first detected in India.

Worries about the efficacy of Sinovac have intensified after Thailand followed Indonesia in reporting that hundreds of medical workers who had been fully vaccinated with Sinovac still got infected, with deaths reported.

So Thailand is now preparing to give its medical workers booster shots of AstraZeneca.

Philippine officials in charge of the pandemic response say it’s too early to talk about booster shots, especially since there aren’t even enough shots available for the first dose at this time.

Father Nicanor Austriaco of OCTA Research Group explained to us on One News’ “The Chiefs” Monday night that the Sinovac jabs used in Thailand were produced in that country by the Chinese pharmaceutical firm in partnership with a company owned by the controversial king. So there is no certainty that the quality of the Thai-made Sinovac jab is the same as the one made in the Chinese mainland.

Health experts in the Philippines have also reassured us that healthcare workers have greater exposure to COVID and are therefore at higher risk of breakthrough infections after getting the full two doses of Sinovac.

COVID vaccines, we are often reminded, do not provide 100 percent immunity from infection, but they are supposed to prevent hospitalization, severe infection and death.

It must be emphasized that even the vaccines deemed to be top of the line in this pandemic, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are considering providing booster shots as infections fueled by the variants spread in countries with high vaccination rates such as Israel, the US and the UK. (The WHO calls the booster plan “greed.”) A July 12 report in Business Insider said a 60-year-old man fully vaccinated with Pfizer caught the virus at a wedding in Texas and was hospitalized for severe COVID.

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To reassure everyone, Food and Drug Administration head Eric Domingo reported Monday night the verified efficacies of the vaccines approved in the Philippines, against the original coronavirus strain and its variants of concern – Alpha (from the UK), Beta (South Africa), Gamma (Brazil) and Delta.

Against the original, Pfizer showed 95 percent efficacy; Moderna, 94 percent; AstraZeneca, 74;  Sputnik, 91; Johnson & Johnson / Janssen, 70; Sinovac, 83.5 (based on clinical trials in Turkey), and Sinopharm, 76 percent.

All these vaccines worked against Alpha, with around 10 percent reduction in efficacy.

Against Beta: J&J, Sinopharm and Sinovac showed 10 to 20 percent less efficacy; Pfizer and Moderna, 20-30 percent less.

There is little data on Gamma because of fewer infections, but Pfizer, Moderna, AZ and Sinovac showed 10-20 percent weakness. There’s no data on Sputnik, J&J and Sinopharm.

Against the virulent Delta, Pfizer, Moderna, AZ and J&J showed 10-20 percent less efficacy. Domingo said data is still being awaited on Sinovac, Sputnik and Sinopharm.

It’s been said that when your time is up, you can’t fight fate. Still, vaccines offer hope that the appointed time can be delayed. So take that shot… if the supplies arrive.

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