THE ongoing discussions on the availability of vaccines and how to inject them into people’s arms made me flashback to a time in early grade school when teachers informed their pupils about an inoculation activity for all.
On the scheduled day, a teacher announced that we were all going to get flu shots which they said was a yearly activity to stop young children from getting hospitalized and reduce the risk of flu-related deaths in children.
I remember that while the boys and girls of our class were lining up from the smallest to the tallest, I was already thinking of an excuse to make since my mom who I remember was working and attending college at the same time was unable to accompany me and my siblings on that day.
Unexplained fear on the faces of my school mates was evident even while mothers were calming down their children, many of them crying upon seeing nurses and doctors arrive in their white gowns.
To get rid of the fear, our school principal and the teachers showed us their arms being pierced with needles. But that did not encourage the children. What I remember was that we submitted ourselves to flu vaccination upon seeing a boy, smaller and younger than us get the first shot. That’s it.
The discussion on the efficacy of the vaccines is one topic that will not likely stop in the near future. At least, we are luckier now as science is able to identify the coronavirus that is infecting us.
Compared to the 1918 influenza pandemic, the vaccines that health experts claimed to have discovered appeared to be ineffective in preventing the flu. In 1919, it was published in the American Journal of Public Health that the causes of flu were still unknown so that the vaccines being produced were all experimental.
The Spanish flu was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza-A virus. From February 1918 to April 1920, it infected 500 million people in four successive waves. The death toll was estimated to be between 20 million and 50 million or higher, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in history.
Vaccines being developed for the Spanish Flu in 1918 were ineffective because the vaccine developers did not have the tools to identify, isolate and produce all the potential disease-causing strains of bacteria then.
There was even a claim that the flu was caused by a vaccine which was completely false. It was only in the 1930s that studies established that influenza was caused by a virus, not bacteria.
While scientists were trying to develop vaccines, the claim that the 1918 influenza pandemic was caused by a massive vaccine campaign was baseless because no vaccine to fight the flu was completely developed then.
Since this was the situation, efforts to control the spread of the Spanish flu pandemic were limited to isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings, which we are doing now.
Fast forward, we are again swamped in a similar situation of the past when health authorities have to create strategies so that people will have the confidence to go to the vaccination centers when their schedules arrive.
The problem is that there are lingering questions in the minds of the public that create more confusion when answered. One question is can we now stop wearing masks after getting the vaccines, to which health authorities say “NO”.
Another question is that if one gets vaccinated, will he not be infected anymore or will he still infect others. The answer of course is “NO” because no one knows until infection happens.
After vaccination, the government or the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) will probably open restaurants and business establishments but everybody will still have to maintain physical distancing and observe health protocols.
Probably, theatres, stadiums, and even concerts in very wide areas can be allowed but strictly monitored to stop people from gathering very close to each other. Since physical distancing is the “new normal” then children cannot attend face-to-face school. After vaccination, there will still be travel restrictions and community lockdowns.
People ask, what then are the benefits of a COVID-19 vaccination? If we listen to the World Health Organization and medical experts, they say that receiving the vaccine will help protect a person by “creating an immune system or antibody response without having to experience sickness”.
While vaccines will not stop people from wearing masks and observing minimum health protocols that help reduce infection and spreading the virus, these measures work better in stopping the pandemic in combination with the vaccine.
The final move that the IATF should plan in order to remove the fear of the vaccine is to assign models or influencers that people look up to. Previously, I said children in grade school were convinced to be vaccinated by a pupil younger and smaller than them.
If President Duterte said he will be one of the first to be injected with whatever vaccine available but not in public, maybe the senators and other top government officials, or one who is applying to be the next president can take the challenge.
Aside from medical frontliners, senior citizens, and policemen, I suggest the LGU heads from the barangays, up to other LGU levels and personalities that communities look up to should volunteer to be vaccinated ahead in order to raise the spirit of the general public.
Keng Hei Fat Chay!