We are all waiting for that magic formula, the vaccine that would finally put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed and infected millions, disrupted our lives, halted our economies, and made our world come to a halt. The current global cases are now approaching close to 67 million and while more than 46 million have recovered, more than 1.5 million have perished. In the Philippines, the number of Filipinos affected have reached 438,069 as of December 6 while more than 8,500 have lost their lives.
There have been many positive breakthroughs in developing the vaccine. This is undoubtedly the best chance we have in terms of ending this nightmarish experience. On December 2, the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for widespread use. Their scientists reported that the vaccine is up to 95% effective after tests involving 43,000 people showed no safety issues.
The developers of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine also reported very promising results with their data showing that the vaccine can stop 70 -90% of people from developing COVID infections. They also reported that their study showed a strong immune response in older people. According to experts, this vaccine may be one of the easiest vaccines to distribute, because it does not need to be stored at very cold temperatures.
There is also the Moderna vaccine which protects 94.5% of people, according to their scientists. The Russian Sputnik V vaccine is said to be 92% effective. While the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and Sinopharm in China, and Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute are all in final testing.
While these are causes for elation, we should temper our excitement because many critical issues need to be addressed first before we can conclusively defeat the coronavirus. And while we wait for that, we should never let our guard down. Let us continue to follow the protocols put forward by health officials in order to make sure that we are alive when the vaccines are ready.
This means we should stay at home unless we need to go out for essential activities. If we go out, always wear a face mask and a face shield, avoid touching surfaces and avoid touching our faces. Practice physical distancing and avoid crowded places. Practicing good personal hygiene like washing your hands frequently will help a lot in protecting yourself and others. It’s like a broken record but that is how we make these “impositions” into lifesaving “habits.”
Our own government agencies must ensure that the vaccines are safe. They should be approved first by our own regulators. Fortunately, President Rodrigo Duterte has already issued an executive order granting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to approve COVID-19 drugs and vaccines for emergency use. This means that a vaccine can be approved by the FDA for use within one month instead of undergoing the usual six-month review period.
Aside from the safety issue, we also need to study how long the protection provided by these vaccines will last. Right now, we do not know the answer to this. What we do know is that the protection a recovered person gets differs from person to person and reports have indicated that it may not last very long. In fact, many have been re-infected merely weeks from their initial infection.
According to former General Carlito Galvez, the government is planning to procure an initial 50 million doses of vaccines to ensure at least a quarter of our population gets inoculated in 2021. The President has been very clear in saying that government has the budget to purchase vaccines but wants “more in order to protect the entire population.”
So while we follow protocols, let us also pray that the end to this global nightmare comes sooner rather than later. Do not allow the good news of a potential vaccine to lull us into a false sense of security. The virus is still around us despite decreasing daily cases. We still need to protect ourselves and the people around us. Remember, the vaccine will not work on the dead.