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Health experts counter OCTA fellow: ‘Omicron is a virus, not a vaccine’

/ 03:01 PM January 07, 2022

MANILA, Philippines — Is the Omicron variant really the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic?

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For health experts from the government, this is something that is hard to say, given that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 is very unpredictable, and more coronavirus transmissions may translate to more mutations.

“Gusto lang po naming iparating sa ating mga kababayan na dapat naiintindihan po natin ang sitwasyon natin ngayon. Mas maraming infections, mas maraming tsansa ng virus na magkaroon ng replication—which is their cycle—at nakakapagreproduce po sila,” Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary and spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a Palace press briefing on Friday.

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(We just want to tell the public that we should understand the situation. The higher the infections, the higher the chance of the virus to replicate—which is their cycle—and they can reproduce.)

“At ang pinakaimportante, mas nagkakaroon ng tsansa ang virus na magmutate, so kailangan pigilan po natin ang ganito karaming infection para hindi tayo magkaroon ng further mutations ng virus which can lead to more fatal outcomes,” she added.

(And the most important part is there will be higher chances for the virus to mutate. We need to prevent this high number of infections so that we will not have further mutations which can lead to more fatal outcomes.)

Vergeire said this in response to OCTA Research fellow and molecular biologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, who said on Wednesday that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 may be “the beginning of the end” of the pandemic. According to Austriaco, the Omicron variant may act as a “natural vaccine,” since those who survive Omicron infection will get antibodies that will protect them “not only against Omicron but against the Delta, Gamma, Beta, Alpha, and D614G” variants.

“As the virus rapidly increases, it’s going to try to spread to everyone and it’s going to try to find as many of our kababayans (countrymen) vulnerable. It is spreading so rapidly, what you will expect is it will run out the food sooner. And when it runs out of food, it will begin to crash,” he earlier said.

Vergeire, however, reminded the public to not be complacent and not willingly get themselves infected because of such a statement.

She said this is not the direction of the government’s response to the pandemic.

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‘Omicron can cause heavy damage’

Meanwhile, Dr. Edsel Salvana, a member of the DOH Technical Advisory Group (TAG) and director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the National Institutes of Health at the University of the Philippines – Manila, stressed that Omicron is a variant of a virus and not a vaccine.

“Ang Omicron po ay virus, hindi po siya bakuna. Hindi katulad ng mga bakuna natin na very safe at hindi nakakahawa ng ibang tao, itong Omicron ay pwede pa rin magdulot ng malaking pinsala,” he stressed in the same briefing.

(The Omicron is a virus, not a vaccine. Unlike vaccines that are very safe and cannot cause the infection of others, the Omicron variant can cause heavy damage.)

Salvana then mentioned the latest statement from the World Health Organization that the infection caused by the Omicron variant should not be dismissed as mild.

He noted that although there is less chance for vaccinated people to have the severe form of COVID-19, other Filipinos remain unvaccinated against the virus.

“Ang risk po ay hindi zero. Pwede pa rin po talaga silang (vaccinated) tamaan although it is less [severe] than somebody who is unvaccinated,” said Salvana.

(The risk is not zero. They can still be infected although it is less severe than somebody who is unvaccinated.)

“Nakita naman natin na tuloy-tuloy na ginugulat tayo ng COVID (We saw that COVID-19 has shocked us consistently). Mahirap magsabi na (It is hard to say that it is the) beginning of the end. If there is one thing constant about COVID-19 and the SARS-CoV-2, is that it has surprised us time and again,” he added.

No proof of antibodies vs other variants

Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, chief of the Infectious and Tropical Disease of the Pediatrics Department at the University of the Philippines and also a member of DOH-TAG, echoed the remarks of Vergeire and Salvana.

Countering Austriaco’s statement, she said there is no definite proof yet that the Omicron variant can provide antibodies against other SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern.

“Siguro ang pinagmulan ng statement ni Fr. Austriaco is ‘yung study na nagpapakita na ‘yung mga taong nagkaroon ng Omicron, ‘yung kanilang antibodies ay may bisa laban sa Delta viruses in the laboratory. Pero walang definite proof na pati doon sa ibang variants of concern ay ganoon ang inaasahan nating makita,” said Lim. She also noted that the virus is very unpredictable.

(Maybe Fr. Austriaco’s statement was based on a study that showed that those who had Omicron produced antibodies against the Delta variant of the virus in the laboratory. But there is no definite proof that this is also the expected effect for other variants of concern.)

“Syempre gusto natin na ito na ang pinakahuli, na wala nang susunod pa na ibang variants. Unfortunately, hindi pa natin masasabi with certainty na ito na nga ang katapusan ng COVID,” she went on.

(Of course, we want this to be the last variant. Unfortunately, we cannot say with certainty that this is the end of COVID.

“Sana magkatotoo, sana magdilang-anghel si Father pero siguro mas maganda pa ring maging maingat,” said Lim.

(I hope it will and that what Father said will come true, but it is better to be careful.)

/MUF

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TAGS: coronavirus Philippines, COVID-19, DoH, Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, Dr. Edsel Salvana, Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, Maria Rosario Vergeire, OCTA Research, Omicron, Omicron variant
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