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When the world first encountered COVID-19 and health experts eventually declared it a “pandemic”, the goal became to “end the pandemic”. Because that’s what you do to things that bring suffering and misery, you try and end them.
As we all better understood the nature of pandemics, we realized that one does not simply end a pandemic. A pandemic becomes “end”-emic. It does not completely disappear; instead, it becomes a part of life. You don’t get rid of it, you learn to live with it.
This happens when the spread is stopped, doctors learn to treat the disease, medicine becomes available, and people know better to cover their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze. For a pandemic to become endemic, enough people need to become immune to the disease, either through vaccination or natural infection.
The “end” in endemic should be easy enough to remember and aim for.
It would be the “end” of lockdowns. Lockdowns hurt our economy. Businesses close down and jobs are lost when the economy grinds to a halt. That’s why when we voluntarily called for a lockdown last August 8, it was met with opposition. We knew that it was the bitter pill we had to swallow so that we could have a good fourth quarter to help the economy heal and get back on track. Imagine if we learned to live with COVID the way we learned to live with the flu. Shutting down entire parts of a city would be unheard of, because there are other ways of dealing with outbreaks and we already know what these are.
To get to the “end” in endemic, we should end vaccine hesitancy. OCTA Research’s survey back in September showed that 22 percent of adult Filipinos still refuse to be vaccinated because of safety and efficacy concerns. That’s more than a fifth of the eligible population. We must end the vaccine misinformation and break down the wall of hesitancy if we are to get to the “end” in endemic.
We have the tools to vaccinate every eligible Filipino and have some more to spare for boosters. As our epidemiologists have said, we should vaccinate while cases are low, which they are right now. Heading off any spread among the unvaccinated or breakthrough cases among those who have been vaccinated can be easily done with a booster vaccine. Experts are already warning that vaccine efficacy wanes even before the sixth month after the second dose, and thus the recommendation that boosters be administered on the third to fourth month.
With new cases in the Philippines now in the low hundreds, experts are saying that such a low base can make an Omicron outbreak by February or March something that is manageable; it gives us time to prepare.
To get to the “end” in endemic, we must end the spread of COVID. We must continue to practice public health and safety protocols and make these a part of our everyday lives. Keep a safe distance, wear masks, and wash our hands; these have been drilled into our minds so often these past two years everyone should know these by heart.
The encouraging news is, the “end” seems to be at hand. This week, the South African Health Minister announced in a press conference that only 1.7 percent of their current COVID cases were hospitalized, compared with 19 percent during the Delta-driven wave. This is significant because it adds to the growing body of evidence that although Omicron is highly transmissible, it appears to be less deadly.
Then there’s research, though yet to be peer-reviewed, that shows that Omicron appears to replicate faster in the airways and 10 times more slowly in the lungs, which might explain why Omicron cases tend to be less severe.
As I asked in a previous column, will this be the good COVID variant? The one where nature finally gives science that much-needed assist so that we could finally have that “end” in endemic?
Here’s hoping. For now, though, we must give nature the time it needs to help us along. We can do that by VAXxing to the MAX, to step up vaccinations through primary doses or boosters. Within our family or business bubbles, let’s convince the hesitant to do their part and get vaccinated. Within our business establishments, let’s continue to be vigilant and be strict with implementing health and safety protocols.
With ourselves, let’s be more Filipino than ever and keep each other safe. One thing going for the Philippines is that we never took off our masks. From the beginning, we knew that it was important to protect ourselves and our friends and family from COVID.
So here’s to the “end” in endemic and to a Merry Christmas to all.