Millions of Filipinos in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces were locked down again until Easter Sunday to combat the surge in COVID-19 infections that continue to paralyze the country's health care system and harm human lives.
As the country awaits the mass rollout of vaccines, seen as the best shot at ending the pandemic, Summit Media journalists sat down with Dr. Beverly Ho who heads the Department of Health's communications arm.
In this video, she answers the most frequently asked—from which vaccine is really the best (if there's even such a thing) to how people can protect themselves from the virus in their own personal capacity.
For reference, read the full transcript below.
What's the DOH's stand on wearing double masks? Should people wear masks at home?
Currently, we don't recommend and our experts don't recommend double masks yet. We have in the past mentioned that if you do have vulnerable family members at home, kunwari kayo yung nagwowork then sila yung nagstestay diba.
So nag advice naman tayo na in those cases, or very limited yung space sa bahay, then masking is actually going to be an option even at home.
Which vaccine does DOH recommend?
There was a very good quote in America, that "The best vaccine is the one that's in your arm."
Alam natin na the COVID infection, kapag sinabing 'ah magkaka-COVID ka', hindi siya actually the same. It can be mild or asymptomatic COVID. It can be moderate COVID [in which] you will require a nasal canula, so may oxygen support ka lang. And then the worst part is severe COVID wherein you're all alone and no one in your family can visit you.
That said, it is going to be important for us to look at what can the vaccines protect us from. And the vaccines can protect us from one, mild or asymptomatic COVID; second, from moderate or severe covid; and third from transmission.
Yung last one, yung transmission blocking, hindi pa po maganda evidence dun. Wala tayong kasiguraduhan nga na if i'm vaccinated hindi na ako makakahawa sa ibang tao.
But for the first two, the data is pretty clear. So, sa moderate to severe COVID, all of the vaccines that are in the market are almost perfect dito.
'Dun sa mild and asymptomatic COVID, nagvavary yung number. Ito yung merong 50%, may 60%, may 70%, may 90%. Pero dun sa isa [protection against moderate to severe COVID], pretty consistent.
Most of them are in the 90%, 100%. Para sa amin, sa health care practitioner, 'yun yung practical nating isipin. If you're afraid of mild to moderate COVID, it's like being afraid of normal flu diba but the difference with COVID is you're actually afraid of severe COVID, yung pwedeng ikamatay, or 'yung naka-ICU na COVID. And if that's the value of vaccines for us, then you actually don't need to choose because all of them are comparable.
ALSO READ: What Does Vaccine Efficacy Mean?
Is it safe for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers to receive the vaccine?
We work with experts from the speciality societies and so we continue to recommend the use of the vaccines, particularly among pregnant and breastfeeding mothers who also happen to be healthcare workers. The evidence is still 'benefits outweigh the risks'.
What are the most adverse reactions to vaccines?
So, I think for now, some do get hospitalized following the vaccine's more severe forms of nausea, headache, fever na mas extended periods of time that require them to be hospitalized. Overall, the worst that has been reported is death, but the death has already been ruled out as not the caused by the vaccine. So I think we also want to emphasize that when we talk about the reported AEFIs (adverse events following immunization), even if it's not related to the vaccine, we still tally it. So far we have around 3% of the people who got the vaccine experienced AEFI.
How do we convince resistant senior citizens and others to receive the vaccine?
I think the evidence is clear. COVID-19 selectively is really harsher for elderly and people with comorbidities. So the chances of dying from COVID is significantly higher for someone who is older, and someone who has comorbidies.
For many of our young people who are supporting their elderly, we know COVID kills, or actually makes it very hard before you expire. So you incur a lot of costs bago ka bawian ng buhay sa totoo lang. And that process, even with Philhealth reimbursement, will still entail costs. I think that's one of the main reasons they could use to convince, na hindi ito mabilisan, it is still going to be costly.
Second is until now, we still don't know the long-term implications of having COVID-19. In scientific articles, some will say that you will get reinfected, that it can get worse. So the best way is really to not get infected at all. And if there's a possibility for that through the vaccines, then go ahead.
Is it safe to leave our homes?
So I think the last two months, we were quite successful after Christmas and New Year and all because of our collective effort. We were able to control and siguro nakalabas naman na yung tao nang konti. But we're in a critical juncture now, and we are asking everyone a little bit more patient. Let's maximize all our online tools because interacting with other people will require us to remove our masks. Siyempre when we meet them, we usually eat together and that's really something na droplet heavy—kumakain, naguusap-usap—and that's something we don't recommend. The recent spike particularly in healthcare facilities are actually driven by this behavior. Ito talaga napopoint nila, kumakain together.
So, every point in time na lumalabas kayo ng bahay, just reasses: what risk am I putting myself into? And kung hindi naman po masyadong urgent, then we recommend na wag nalang po muna.
How do we protect our children?
So the first reason why we're unable to vaccinate kids now is because there's no evidence. All of the clinical trials they also had to prioritize, alam naman natin it's not the kids who are dying, the target population were actually adults. With that, we have no evidence that the kids can receive the vaccine.
So, now, if we're talking about herd immunity, we said that some people within the community cannot receive it, yung mga nagka-allergy diba, severe allergy pala or the kids, for example.
So, if all the adults make sure that we are vaccinated, then in some ways, yes, we are protecting the kids because they're gonna be the beneficiaries of herd immunity.
Do you recommend personal air purifiers to wear around the neck?
We've issued a lot of statements already about this before. We are not endorsing any such device because of lack of evidence. So, kami naman basta may ebidensya, we recommend it. But we are also not stopping people from buying it, if they want to or if it makes them feel safe.