UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
(Last Sept. 27, a consultative meeting was held by the GoNegosyo with medical experts to seek their opinions on allowing greater mobility for the fully vaccinated in certain areas to open the economy a little bit more. The travel sectors-airlines, hotels and travel destinations, restaurants, cinema operators, salons and spas, gyms and fitness facilities were all represented and presented their requests for help in saving their operations and their employees’ jobs. The medical sector was represented by the OCTA experts, Drs. Oscar Tinio (PMA chair), Manuel Dayrit and Esperanza Cabral (former DOH secretaries), Dr. Lulu Bravo (vaccinology expert and co-convenor of the Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare), Dr. Benny Atienza (PMA president), Dr. Benjamin Co, Minguita Padilla (co-convenor of Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare & GoNegosyo medical lead) and for the Philippine Society of Pathologists Inc., President Robert Padua and yours truly, among others. I beg forgiveness if I forgot some names due to old age.)
Dr. Atienza stated the PMA is pro-health, pro-poor and pro-economy, citing the relatively high vaccination rate in the NCR. He wants more access to testing and vaccines for the poor which are social issues. Dr. Atienza also emphasized the need for households of healthcare workers and OFWs to be vaccinated or the effort to protect the A1 or OFW populations will be for nothing.
Dr. Padilla agrees the vaccinated should have more leeway and the state has a duty to protect its people by vaccinations. She wants more testing and vaccines for the provinces.
Dr. Padua stressed the need for ramping up testing capacity as measures to manage the pandemic. He stressed continued adherence to basic health protocols in everyday activities to prevent outbreaks.
On my part, I stressed the need for testing as well as vaccination to manage the pandemic, stating that the Philippine Society of Pathologists position since the start of the pandemic, which was expanded to include strategic testing in localized outbreaks. I also fully believe in giving the fully vaccinated more freedoms and privileges in the push to open up the economy, since it will encourage more vaccine-hesitant individuals to take the jabs. Otherwise, with the prevailing climate of fear engendered by the Dengvaxia furor, we may not achieve herd immunity.
In studying the Bakuna Bubble concept, I find it a very reasonable proposal. The NCR is nearing its target vaccination rate, and with objective evidence that the surge is fueled by the unvaccinated, it strengthens my conviction that vaccinations are the way out of this pandemic. Further, anyone watching the US Open and Wimbledon tennis tournaments on TV can see, the stadiums were filled to the rafters with hardly anyone wearing a mask, yet, there were no reported outbreaks from these events. The same goes for the much-awaited concert in New York City’s Central Park last month where people were shoulder to shoulder without masks. These events were open only to the fully vaccinated. These are real life situations illustrating the power of vaccination. Let us give the Bakuna Bubble concept a chance by piloting it in the NCR.
The travel industry has a very convincing argument going for it. First, planes have a very well managed air circulation system with directional airflows and HEPA filtration that markedly reduce microbial contamination by 99.5 percent. There hasn’t been any publicized outbreak arising from infected airline passengers, more so if all occupants wear masks during the flight.
I can support the figures cited by the airline industry of low infection rates among its passengers. Our COVID-19 testing laboratory at the Philippine Childrens Medical Center has conducted and is continually doing testing on returning Overseas Filipino workers (OFW) and domestic tourists (via a MOA with the Department of Tourism) with very low rates of positivity (1-2 percent) in both populations. These figures powerfully support the call for a reduction of quarantine period down to five days.
All in all, the consensus is that we can safely open up our economy by allowing fully vaccinated persons more mobility so as not to sacrifice our economy and impose more hardships on our long-suffering countrymen. We in the medical sector agree with the business sector that a balance must be struck between health and the economy. The balance can be more safely done with vaccination. However, we need to ramp up vaccination quickly which is being hindered by the bureaucratic way we conduct mass vaccinations (see last week’s column, “Good Jab, Bad Jab”).
Next step will be to seek a consultation with the IATF to discuss these proposals. We must get out of our economic doldrums or risk even more harm to the country. NEDA Socioeconomic Planning Secretary paints a very gloomy and alarming picture of our economy in the years ahead even if we get out of the pandemic soon with the attendant costs yet unseen which he has projected grimly. Let us hope and pray we can still salvage something out of it by moving in the right direction at this time. Calling on Secretary Carlito Galvez. You said you will listen to the medical sector. Please hear us out on this one.