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BUT DOH OFFICIALS SAY JABS ARE SAVING LIVES

Mass vaccination ‘unwittingly fueling’ spread of Omicron, says advocacy group

The government is making grave missteps in handling the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, according to officers of an advocacy group composed of doctors, health-care professionals and other experts.

In a statement issued on Monday, Fame Leaders Academy (FLA) dean Hudson Pelayo and dean emeritus Dr. Rafael Castillo urged government officials to reconsider the current push for mass vaccination and booster shots and the restriction of unvaccinated persons— “two serious miscalculations” that, they said, were “unwittingly fueling the spread” of the virus.

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They called for the immediate suspension of mass vaccination in “hotbed areas,” directing their urgent message to the Department of Health (DOH), Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

“With a 44-percent positivity rate, that means almost every other individual in a crowd seeking vaccination may carry the virus. Most of these are either asymptomatic or with very mild symptoms they don’t attribute to COVID-19,” they said, adding:

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“It’s never sound medicine to administer vaccination during a massive infectious outbreak.”

Pelayo and Castillo observed that in the past two weeks, many patients contracted the virus within a week of getting a jab, and went on to infect family members.

“So it’s possible the mass vaccination is contributory” to the spread of the Omicron variant, they said.

Similar risk

Pelayo is a businessman with a master’s degree in business administration. Castillo, a public health educator, heads the FLA’s Cardio-Metabolic Research Unit which conducts scientific researches and clinical trials. He writes a weekly health column for the Inquirer.

Citing “multiple studies,” Pelayo and Castillo said that with the Delta variant and likely more so with Omicron, “the viral loads in both the fully vaccinated and the unvaccinated are similar or equivalent, suggesting that their potential to infect others is of similar risk.”

They said it could be assumed that the vaccinated generally showing mild or no symptoms were unwittingly infecting more people than the unvaccinated who were generally symptomatic and were therefore staying home.

They added: “Many vaccinated individuals also have the false impression and confidence that they’re protected by the vaccines so they can let their guard down … unlike the unvaccinated, who remain conscious of their susceptibility to COVID-19 and need for strict adherence to prescribed health protocols.”

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Pelayo and Castillo urged health officials to: immediately suspend mass vaccination in areas with high numbers of infections; advise those who just got jabbed to quarantine for five days; educate the public on the potential of both the vaccinated and unvaccinated to get infected and spread the virus; and wage an information drive on early treatment protocols and ways to boost the immune system.

They asked that the government provide early diagnostic and treatment kits to poor barangays; free or affordable rapid antigen testing kits for home use; and more teleconsultations to “prevent congestion that can lead to artificial health care exhaustion” in medical facilities.

They said directives, ordinances or resolutions discriminating against the unvaccinated should be recalled as these “inflict much harm on their physical and mental health.”

Importance of jabs

But the DOH and health experts on Tuesday stressed the importance of vaccination, saying it was why severe and mild infections, particularly in Metro Manila, had been kept to a minimum.

Asked to comment on the statement of Pelayo and Castillo, epidemiologist Dr. John Wong, a member of the DOH Senior Technical Advisory Group, said: “The opposite is true. Vaccination does decrease transmission even though not as well as its impact on hospitalization.”

“Vaccination and boosting are still our best public health intervention… and we should continue to do that,” he said, stressing that priority should be given to the unvaccinated.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire credited the high vaccination rate in Metro Manila for its low number of severe and critical cases.

“Our vaccination indeed worked and helped in preventing many of us from getting hospitalized, from contracting severe disease and even death,” she said in a virtual press briefing.

Asked whether the less severe and critical cases were due to Omicron or the high vaccination rate, Dr. Edsel Salvana, a member of the DOH-Technical Advisory Group, said it was the latter.

“I think we’re giving Omicron too much credit when in fact it’s the vaccination that should be the star,” Salvana said. “Whatever variant it is, we will still see an increase in critical and severe cases if our vaccination rate is low. It’s really the vaccines that are saving lives.”

Per DOH data, as of Dec. 28, 2021, almost 85 percent admitted to hospitals were unvaccinated.

The same data show that almost 93 percent of those who died of COVID-19 were only partially vaccinated or not at all, Vergeire said.

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TAGS: COVID-19 Omicron variant, covid-19 vaccination
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