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Manila, Philippines

Understanding What Goes Under Your Skin. COVID-19 Vaccines Explained.

Every 7th of April marks the celebration of World Health Day. This celebration is aimed to create awareness of a specific health theme to highlight a priority area of concern for the World Health Organization.

It's time to talk about vaccines.

Several citizens of the Philippines are scared. Health surveys are sent to them asking for their willingness to be vaccinated with whatever brand is available. After a year of quarantine waiting for vaccines, should the citizens of the Philippines compare brands of vaccines based on their efficacy rate?

I have raised this concern to our very own medical doctors in the frontline, namely Dra. Ricamae Kessiah O. Manalo and Dr. Reynaldo P. Munsayac Jr.

Dra. Manalo has highlighted the benefits of vaccines, "Ideally, in a pandemic and emergency situation like this, vaccination is of utmost importance, and it is very much essential to get it as soon as possible whatever brand is available. Vaccination has proven its importance as it was able to prevent the spread and even eradicated various killer diseases from the past. Vaccines protect the individual, community and healthcare systems necessary to fight this unprecedented public health crisis."

Photo courtesy of Dra. Ricamae Kessiah O. Manalo

"Due to the advances in Science and Technology, many countries were able to develop different vaccines. Supposedly, people have the right to choose which vaccine they would want to receive. However, here in the Philippines whereas of the moment, we are just relying on the donations given by China and the United Kingdom, not to mention that the vaccine is NOT being rolled out for everybody JUST yet. Currently, two vaccines are on the roll-out for the prioritized population." She added.

Dr. Munsayac, Jr. has explained that vaccine brands are not supposed to be compared to one another, "For a vaccine to have an efficacy rate, each vaccine should undergo with the drug company's own study. So a different vaccine will have different studies using different demographics and timeframe.

You cannot compare the efficacy results of different studies.

For example, if you test a single vaccine during the height of the pandemic vs during the decline, you will likely have a lesser efficacy rate during the pandemic surge."

Photo courtesy of Dr. Reynaldo P. Munsayac, Jr.

Medical professionals are exposed to a riskier environment. Even if the vaccinations are prioritized for healthcare workers, Sinovac vaccines are given even when they showed varied efficacy readings of between 50.65% and 83.5% based on trials from Brazil, Turkey, and Indonesia. With a possible exposure to the virus each day, is it safe to use Sinovac to our healthcare workers? What are the pros and cons?

Dra. Manalo admits that "as a healthcare worker in a developing country, whose solution is to wait and rely on the distribution of the vaccines from other developed countries, I had a fair square of hesitation whether to get Sinovac or not. But given the real risks faced by the frontliners,

any WHO-recommended COVID-19 vaccine, Sinovac included, must be considered by the healthcare workers to receive as soon as possible.

"According to WHO, the 50% efficacy threshold set for COVID-19 vaccines is because COVID-19 was deemed such a severe disease, that if a vaccine is only 50% effective, it’s still worth using. Fortunately, the emerging data on COVID-19 vaccines suggests that the vaccines are very safe with high efficacy, at least against some of the variants." added by Dra. Manalo.

Dra. Manalo also assured that "Almost all of the vaccines developed can offer protection against symptomatic disease, but I guess for me, as of the moment, people must focus on how the vaccines could protect us from severe disease, hospitalization, and deaths, which according to the data available, can be offered by Sinovac. Given the situation that there is much more to know about Covid 19 as it continues to mutate and produce different variants, I personally think that preventing this virus to get to the point of severe disease is much easier to attain than preventing all symptoms of it."

Sinovac and AstraZeneca (the one I got) vaccines, which are the only ones available in the Philippines as of the moment seem to have lower efficacy thant the other vaccines like like Moderna and Pfizer, in preventing mild to moderate disease, but studies have shown that these two were proven to be useful in preventing severe disease, both with nearly 90-100% efficacy against some of the earlier variants of COVID-19." Dra. Manalo finished.

Dra. Manalo and her dog. Photo courtesy of Dra. Ricamae Kessiah O. Manalo.

Dr. Munsayac gave a precise and strong sentiment, "When it comes to safety, all these COVID-19 vaccines are proven to be safe. Phase 1 trials are all about the safety of a drug or in this case, a vaccine. Lower efficacy vaccines mean a higher chance of having the virus. But again, these numbers don't show the whole picture. The main benefit that you will get when vaccinated is the prevention of severe symptoms and death due to the virus.

All of the vaccines today prevent these adverse reactions 100%.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Reynaldo P. Munsayac, Jr.

We all need to be informed.

Dra. Manalo thinks that "all doctors would agree with me that the most important information about vaccines is that they are safe and effective. Besides COVID-19, this is one of the major battles, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals are facing in this country. Misinformation and “fake news” coming from unreliable individuals targeting the vulnerable population are suddenly emerging on social media. It is so hard to imagine that these individuals, who we address nowadays as “anti-vaxxers” can easily persuade others with their baseless allegations treating the vaccine as if it were detrimental to the body. That is why I am reaching out to people who are open-minded and knowledgeable about the subject matter, to help us, doctors, to educate your family, friends, and community on the right information that is grounded on proven and evidence-based scientific data."

Do not be afraid of being vaccinated. To end this article for World Health Day, let me quote Dr. Munsayac, Jr.

"Right now, the best vaccine that you can get is the earliest available. A single day delay in getting the shot will mean a single day of possibly having the disease without preventing severe life threatening symptoms."


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