Lessons from Chile: a Philippine perspective

The lessons of Chile’s experience should be instructive to the Philippines. Due to prior connections with China, Chile’s medical officials met with Sinovac as early as February 2020 and were among the earliest countries to procure vaccines from them.

As of March 1, it had procured 10 million doses of Sinovac, and 700,000 doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. It has administered 6 million vaccine doses, most of it Sinovac. As a country, it has less vaccine hesitancy than ours (60% of its people were amenable to vaccination). 6 million doses correspond to more than 33% of the total population of Chile. Outside of Israel, United Arab Emirates, and Seychelles, no country has inoculated a greater percentage of the population. Their country’s vaccine procurement and administration has been exemplary.

Despite this, however, they still suffered from surges. This was partly due to the premature easing of restrictions by the government, partly due to a false sense of confidence by the public, and partly because of the more transmissible variants. Does that sound familiar?

Similar to Chile, the Philippines largely relies on vaccines from Sinovac, and as of April 1, 2021, 738,913 vaccine doses (Sinovac and AstraZeneca) were administered. Its vaccination drive has gained traction. The pivotal question, however, is: is it enough?

Different medical experts have provided a consensus response that the ECQ is only a band-aid solution. It will help curb the rise of cases (Chile, for example, has also instituted lockdowns), but it is not a definitive answer. While mass vaccination seems to be the definitive solution (as Israel seems to have shown), there is a global dearth of vaccines. For countries like the Philippines, such a solution is not within reach at the moment. Further, herd immunity is impossible with Sinovac’s accepted efficacy, especially with the greater transmissibility of the newer variants. AstraZeneca also doesn’t have an efficacy rate that would be conducive to herd immunity.

Another thing to think about is that the greater the transmission and the higher the number of cases, the greater the possibility of viral mutation. And in a hotbed of infection like the Greater Manila Area, there is a tendency for more than one variant to infect a person. That’s concerning — because viral recombination can occur. The more these incidents happen, the greater is the possibility for an even tougher COVID-19 variant to arise.

When people see big numbers, they tend to think of those as statistics. Think about it this way, though: each of the 130,000+ active cases is a possible nexus of mutation or viral recombination. That is alarming, especially because we already have a Philippine variant. It’s even highly possible that, when a greater number of vaccines do arrive, these wouldn’t be as effective. AstraZeneca’s vaccine, for instance, has only a 10% efficacy against the South African variant.

What can be done?

I’ll always reiterate and restate that each Filipino can contribute to the end of the pandemic by following the minimum health care protocols: double-mask up (or use KF94/N95 masks), wear your face shields properly, maintain social distancing, and always sanitize your hands. As much as possible, please stay at home. When the recent spike in cases occurred, I realized that I had to buy weights and just do workouts at home.

However, especially in light of the more transmissible variants, more aggressive contact tracing and testing must be done. An average of 10,000 positive cases out of 25,000 people tested means that there’s wide transmission, and that there must be more testing.

At times like these, it’s hard to be socially aware. We are all suffering from our own personal issues. However, if we want the pandemic to end sooner rather than later, each one of us has to sacrifice a little bit so that all of us can rise.

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