[COLUMN] Mothers’ Day wish: Let’s all get vaccinated to attain herd immunity, save lives, and win the war against COVID-19

Four generations: The author (right) with her Mom Angelita Santos (middle) , daughter Christine Relos Reinheimer ( left) and granddaughter Azshara Angelina in 2014. Courtesy photo

THIS piece is a tribute to all mothers as we celebrate Mothers’ Day this weekend. We all have been blessed with life because we have a mother who nurtured us in her womb and took care of us when we were so fragile and helpless, until we were able to stretch our wings and soar to fulfill our own dreams.

We mothers put our lives on the line from the day we conceive our children and will be there to protect and guide them for as long as we live. Our greatest joy and fulfillment is to see them all healthy, well, fulfilling their purpose in life. Thank you to all mothers like me, especially my own mother, Mrs. Angelita Quintana Concepcion Santos, and my daughter, Christine Margarita Relos Reinheimer.

As the world fights against the invisible enemy, we mothers will do everything we can to save lives. We pray, we take care of our family. We are also purpose-driven and will use all possible means to protect our family’s and mankind in general with our maternal instincts and faith in God.

That is why as a mother, I am urging all of us to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as we continue to follow safety measures to win this war against the pandemic. God’s hand is upon us with the ample supply of vaccines now ready to protect all adults in the United States.

The latest news this past week is giving us more arsenal in our fight against the virus. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to authorize Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 12 to 15 by next week. Approval of the vaccine could boost the country’s immunization drive, and will help schools to reopen safely in the fall. The companies reported in March that their vaccine was safe and 100% effective in this age group, according to theNew York Times.

Another news: Younger children ages 2-11 could potentially be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine this fall.

“Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla, D.V.M., Ph.D., said on a quarterly earnings call Tuesday he expects to request emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in September. Under his plan, an EUA request for ages six months to 2 years would follow in the fourth quarter,” the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported.

More details from the AAP:
President Joe Biden said Tuesday if the FDA approves, officials will focus on making vaccines available through pediatricians and family physicians. He is challenging states to vaccinate as many adolescents as possible by July 4.

“Parents and their children can talk to their family doctor about it and get their shot from a provider they trust the most. Easy, fast and free,” Biden said. “And if teens are on the move this summer, they can get their first shot in one place and the second shot elsewhere.”

The AAP has continued to push for pediatric vaccine trials in children and adolescents. Last week, children made up 22.4% of new cases, a share that has been growing, according to data from the AAP and Children’s Hospital Association. More than 3.78 million children have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 and at least 303 have died. The pandemic also has taken a toll on children’s mental and emotional health, social well-being and their educational experience.

With adolescent vaccination on the horizon, the AAP has been helping pediatricians prepare to administer the vaccine in their practices. It recently updated its FAQs about COVID-19 vaccines and released new recommendations on how to prepare, how to implement vaccination in pediatric practices and how to get paid for vaccine administration.

In addition to addressing vaccination for children and adolescents on Tuesday, Dr. Bourla said the company plans to apply for full FDA licensure of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of this month for ages 16-85. He also expects to have phase 2 safety data on pregnant women in late July or early August.

THESE developments tell us, mothers, that God is heeding our prayers and are helping us take care of our children and our families. This is a big step toward achieving herd immunity.

Herd immunity

Let me enlighten you about it from the information published by The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and why it is critical to get us all vaccinated, including people from other countries in the world, including the Philippines:

What is herd immunity?

When most of a population is immune to an infectious disease, this provides indirect protection—or population immunity (also called herd immunity or herd protection)—to those who are not immune to the disease.

For example, if 80% of a population is immune to a virus, four out of every five people who encounter someone with the disease won’t get sick (and won’t spread the disease any further). In this way, the spread of infectious diseases is kept under control. Depending how contagious an infection is, usually 50% to 90% of a population needs immunity before infection rates start to decline. But this percentage isn’t a “magic threshold” that we need to cross—especially for a novel virus. Both viral evolution and changes in how people interact with each other can bring this number up or down.

Below any “herd immunity threshold,” immunity in the population (for example, from vaccination) can still have a positive effect. And above the threshold, infections can still occur.

The higher the level of immunity, the larger the benefit. This is why it is important to get as many people as possible vaccinated.

How have we achieved herd immunity for other infectious diseases?

Measles, mumps, polio, and chickenpox are examples of infectious diseases that were once very common but are now rare in the U.S. because vaccines helped to establish herd immunity. We sometimes see outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in communities with lower vaccine coverage because they don’t have herd protection. (The 2019 measles outbreak at Disneyland is an example.)

For infections without a vaccine, even if many adults have developed immunity because of prior infection, the disease can still circulate among children and can still infect those with weakened immune systems. This was seen for many of the aforementioned diseases before vaccines were developed.

Other viruses (like the flu) mutate over time, so antibodies from a previous infection provide protection for only a short period of time. For the flu, this is less than a year.

If SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is like other coronaviruses that currently infect humans, we can expect that people who get infected will be immune for months to years. For example, population-based studies in places like Denmark have shown that an initial infection by SARS-CoV-2 is protective against repeat infection for more than six months. But this level of immunity may be lower among people with weaker immune systems (such as people who are older), and it is unlikely to be lifelong. This is why we need vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 as well.

What will it take to achieve herd immunity with SARS-CoV-2?

As with any other infection, there are two ways to achieve herd immunity: A large proportion of the population either gets infected or gets a protective vaccine. What we know about coronavirus so far suggests that, if we were really to go back to a pre-pandemic lifestyle, we would need at least 70% of the population to be immune to keep the rate of infection down (“achieve herd immunity”) without restrictions on activities. But this level depends on many factors, including the infectiousness of the virus variants can evolve that are more infectious) and how people interact with each other.

For example, when the population reduces their level of interaction (through distancing, wearing masks, etc.), infection rates slow down. But as society opens up more broadly and the virus mutates to become more contagious, infection rates will go up again. Since we are not currently at a level of protection that can allow life to return to normal without seeing another spike in cases and deaths, it is now a race between infection and injection.

Will we ever get to herd immunity?

Yes—and hopefully sooner rather than later, as vaccine manufacturing and distribution are rapidly being scaled up.

In the United States, current projections are that we can get more than half of all American adults fully vaccinated by the end of Summer 2021—which would take us a long way toward herd immunity, in only a few months. By the time winter comes around, hopefully enough of the population will be vaccinated to prevent another large surge like what we have seen this year. But this optimistic scenario is not guaranteed.

It requires widespread vaccine uptake among all parts of the population—including all ages and races, in all cities, suburbs, and countrysides. Because the human population is so interconnected, an outbreak anywhere can lead to a resurgence everywhere.

This is a global concern as well. As long as there are unvaccinated populations in the world, SARS-CoV-2 will continue to spread and mutate, and additional variants will emerge. In the U.S. and elsewhere, booster vaccination may become necessary if variants arise that can evade the immune response provoked by current vaccines.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989 with ABS-CBN and is now serving the Filipino audience using different platforms, including digital broadcasting, and print, and is working on a new public service program for the community. You may contact her through email at gelrelos@icloud.com, or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos.

Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com and www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

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