Relaxing protocols and booster curbs

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

I’m not going to get tired of writing about this. The COVID-19 virus is here to stay. So what’s new? The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently loosened its guidelines on COVID-19. This despite the rising cases of Omicron sub-variants worldwide.

How loose are the guidelines? It’s loose enough to allow schools and many workplaces in the US to reopen with a semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy. Masking there has long become optional, though it is still recommended that people wear masks indoors in places where infection is high.

The distinctions between what the vaccinated and the unvaccinated can and cannot do in any given situation have also been removed. Physical distancing measures have been relaxed. This pragmatic approach in dealing with the virus has become possible because of two factors --widespread vaccination and the availability of anti-viral treatments. Both have significantly reduced the risk of severe illness.

The first booster shot is now available to the general population. Our own government has also relaxed the curbs on the second booster dose. Adults 50 years and older may now get them at least four months after their first booster shot. People who are immunocompromised may also get them. Health workers, meanwhile, have long been prioritized for any new recommended dose.

The World Health Organization has recommended a second booster shot only for older people and the immunocompromised. For the younger and healthy population, studies so far show that a second booster dose protects them from COVID-19 infection only for a very short period of time. For protection against severe disease, the third dose is already adequate for younger people.

This did not, however, stop Iloilo City Rep. Janette Garin from urging the government last July to expand the administration of second COVID-19 booster doses to the general public. I support Garin’s call for expansion, if not for the general population, at least for those people in work environments where the risk of getting exposed to the virus is high. Restaurant staff, grocery attendants, and those in government frontline service are among those workers at risk.

It’s clear that many of those currently eligible for second booster shots may not be interested in a second booster dose. Meanwhile, around 27 to 30 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines expired last July. Billions of pesos worth of vaccines gone to waste. This while some younger people who are active in the workforce outside their homes have been wanting to get that second booster dose.

I had my first booster shot last January. Under current guidelines and protocols, I should still be relatively well within the safe zone. I still wear mask indoors and outdoors around people. There are times I remove my mask when among select people and when ventilation is okay. Distancing is also impossible nowadays with many people already back to their usual activities. That is why I consider my activities outside the house still quite risky.

The new Omicron sub-variant BA.5 is highly contagious as can be seen by the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country. The news the other day states that Central Visayas is back among the top five regions with the most number of active COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days at 2,252 based on the DOH tracker. The FREEMAN reports that among local government units in the region, Cebu City has the most number of active cases with 692, Lapu-Lapu City has 147, while Mandaue City has 165. All LGUs in the region, except for Siquijor, have an increasing trend in COVID-19 cases.

It’s a little consolation that hospitals in the region are still operating at a safe level at only 37.5% of beds used, with 42 ICU beds for COVID-19 occupied. At this stage, we’re supposed to be past that kind of monitoring already. We should now be aiming for restoring normalcy and learning to live with COVID-19. But the fact that we’re still looking at the hospital utilization rate shows the possibility that the level of infection could still derail our health system.

In a few days, classes for the academic year 2022-2023 will officially begin. The educational system could no longer afford the further suspension of face-to-face classes. A community of learners, presence of social cues, and personal connections are important things we missed during the pandemic. Mass vaccination remains the key to restoring all that and living with the virus.


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