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Herd immunity

While it feels like more Filipinos are getting vaccinated, it has to be noted that only less than 10 percent of our population has received their Covid-19 shots and we are still a long way from the goal of herd immunity that will allow a semblance of normalcy to return.

Herd immunity requires a bit of math where the factors to consider are the percentage of the population vaccinated and the efficacy of the vaccine. I’m not so sure of the exact formula but the gist is if the vaccine efficacy is higher, less of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to achieve the goal. This means that if a vaccine with lesser efficacy is used then a bigger percentage of the population needs to be inoculated.

Given that math, the fastest way for a country like the Philippines with a huge population of 110 million to achieve herd immunity is to use the vaccine with the highest efficacy. Because our government dropped the ball when it came to procuring the statistically “better” vaccines, we will need to inoculate more people and given the rate of the vaccination rollout, the finish line is not yet in sight for Filipinos.

In an ideal world, our government would’ve gotten the vaccine with the higher efficacy and lower cost but we ended up with the one with lower efficacy and higher cost. If we had standards for performance, we’d consider this an epic failure but because we allowed those standards and expectations to be thrown away, we are ok with any vaccination program. As long as we are getting vaccines, we will still achieve herd immunity someday. What’s a few more months of this XXXCQ wheel of fortune lifestyle anyway?

Even though the bulk of the vaccines that have been delivered and jabbed are of the lower efficacy, the bottom line is those who have been and will be vaccinated are still getting much needed protection from severe Covid-19, and that should be welcomed by everyone.

The path to herd immunity in this country is going to be a long one and until that is achieved, we are all still at risk. The unvaccinated could get infected and end up in the hospital, the ICU, or in an urn. The vaccinated are already protected from the hospital, ICU and death, but with more infectious strains milling around, they can still get a mild case of Covid and might still transmit the disease. This is why vaccinating just 10 percent or even 50 percent won’t make a difference. Our pandemic life will stay the same until we hit the mark that science says everyone is safe. A government that would rather change standards and terminologies for convenience sake or offer to slap the “veerus” won’t help.

If herd immunity is nowhere near our immediate future, what can those who are already fully vaccinated do? Well if you come to think of it, unless our entire households and social circles are also fully vaccinated, nothing basically changes. This is because the less efficacious vaccine may not provide the protection we need to counter the new strains and while we may not get sick, it is possible to be asymptomatic and transmit it to unvaccinated family members who are still highly vulnerable to severe Covid.

In an ideal situation, the entire family would be fully vaccinated so we can all lead normal lives. But because only government says who can get vaccinated and there is currently no way for the private sector to purchase our own vaccines, younger members of the population and the non-category people will have to wait until they are given the green light, which, given the pace of vaccination, could take months.

This means that in families with mixed vaccination status, those who are vaccinated will still need to take all the precautions to prevent infecting themselves when going out in public and taking the virus home. Normalcy is possible only when among people that you know to be vaccinated as well. This is why those who are already fully vaccinated have to push hard for everyone in their social circles such as family members, friends, and the workplace, to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

The country will take a while to achieve herd immunity but it is up to us to push for our own immunized bubbles among the people we usually interact with. For some sectors, in my case our teenaged kids, it looks like an impossible task right now. But families and groups where all members are qualified to be vaccinated should make the immunized bubble priority number one right now. If we all work to achieve our own immunized bubbles as quickly as we can, we can even help the country overcome the challenge of achieving herd immunity ASAP.*

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