A virus, not a vaccine

As COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila hit a new record since the pandemic began in 2020 – at least 28,707 cases on Sunday – people are desperately clinging to assurances that the end of this crippling health crisis is in sight.

This could explain why a statement about the Omicron variant of the virus, describing it as the “beginning of the end of the pandemic”, immediately gained traction, presumptive and irresponsible as it is, according to health experts.

On January 5, researcher Fr. Nicanor Austriaco published a controversial statement about the variant in a Go Negosyo forum.

“We have to realize that Omicron is the beginning of the end of the pandemic because Omicron is going to provide the kind of population immunity that should stabilize our societies and allow us to reopen,” he said. Omicron, Austriaco said, will be a “natural vaccine” that can provide the population with antibodies that will protect them from all variants of COVID-19.

“It is hope and prayer. The Omicron is actually a blessing. It will be hard for a month, but after that it should be a blessing because it should provide the protection of the population that we need everywhere, ”he added.

Fortunately, other health experts immediately debunked Austria’s fantastic statement to stem the damage it could have done to an unsuspecting public.

During a Palace press briefing, Health Undersecretary and spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire warned the public of the risk of voluntarily becoming infected with the Omicron variant due to the declaration of ‘Austriaco.

“The higher the number of infections, the more likely the virus is to replicate – which is its cycle – and it can reproduce,” Vergeire added.

“The Omicron is a virus, not a vaccine,” said succinctly Dr. Edsel Salvana, member of the Department of Health (DOH) Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and Director of the Institute for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. National Institutes of Health at the University of the Philippines-Manila.

Even Austria’s colleague at OCTA, Dr Guido David, pushed the group away from the claim. “Not a statement from OCTA. He shares his point of view. It is not my point of view or that of OCTA,” David said in a tweet.

While it is commendable that DOH and OCTA Research are clarifying Austria’s alarming statement that could create unrealistic expectations and encourage complacency among a population weary of the pandemic, it is high time the government took a more proactive stance. since the virus continues to mutate. Although the global health crisis is now entering its third year, herd immunity is far from being achieved in the country and citizens are still on their own to cope with the difficulties of being infected.

Take the need for self-administered COVID-19 antigen test kits which became more pronounced as the spike in infections overwhelmed public and private testing labs, with results released three or four days later instead. the usual 24 to 48 hours. Unable to access this more affordable testing option, asymptomatic people could unintentionally transmit the virus, while the undue delay in releasing results could affect the prospects for recovery of those infected.

More than two years after the start of the pandemic and home use antigen test kits have yet to be registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) despite their availability from online sources. Couldn’t the FDA and DOH have taken inspiration early on from other countries that made these test kits available to the public – some for free – and made it easier to register these test kits instead? just wait for importers to apply?

Then there is the current shortage of paracetamol attributed to increased demand as people with flu-like symptoms resort to self-medication in the absence of more accessible means of testing. Some pharmacies have had to import the drug to meet local demand as the government seems unable to control possible hoarding among consumers.

More disappointingly, the government has yet to meet its vaccination target despite the availability of COVID-19 vaccines in storage facilities across the country. Instead of threatening sanctions, including arrest, for those who refuse to be bitten, why not offer incentives to encourage anti-vaccinees to get vaccinated? A more concerted information campaign at the barangay level could also go a long way in breaking down misconceptions about the risks and effects of the vaccine which may still be prevalent, especially in remote areas.

Seeing the government exhaust all means to protect Filipinos from the virus would be a real blessing – and an assurance that people won’t fall prey to such dangerous notions as Omicron being the “blessing” we’ve all been waiting for.

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