Living with COVID

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    ‘Is it time for us to mentally prepare ourselves to be living with COVID, the way we live with the Big C and the flu and other diseases communicable or not?’

    IF my readings are accurate, a number of nation-states have foregone the idea of achieving “herd immunity” and are beginning to embrace the concept of “living with COVID.”

    This change of direction is spurred, I think, by two realities that are interlinked. The first reality is that it is extremely difficult to get herd immunity levels of the population vaccinated at the same time. The second is that for as long as many people are unvaccinated the virus will find what it needs to spread, and while spreading, will keep mutating.

    It is by mutating that viruses survive. It is the way they race against science’s attempt to stamp them out forever.

    Why would achieving herd immunity via vaccination be difficult, if not nearly impossible? The reason is simple: there are not enough vaccines around to inoculate maybe 80%, or more, of the global population, in a manner that everyone’s immune period overlaps.

    While vaccination levels in Europe and the US are above 50% already, and in places like Singapore even above 80%, in many countries in Africa it’s not even 20%, maybe not even 10%. And as the saying goes, “no one is safe until everyone is safe.”

    The problem is, in a big way, vaccine supply. They’re produced in the West (except for the Russian and Chinese versions) and naturally first go to the West. Africa becomes an afterthought. And this supply issue is made more complicated when a vaccine moves from EUA levels to full approval levels – which means it can now be sold commercially.

    Who has the means to buy? Who has no choice but to rely on dole outs?

    And remember, what’s the use of vaccinating everyone if not everyone is immune at the same time? Meaning if a vaccine is effective for one year, it is important that within the one year from Citizen #1 gets vaccinated we get Citizen #80th or 90th% vaccinated, too.

    That’s herd immunity because from the very first citizen to the one considered the marker for 80% of 90% everyone is immune at the same time. And the virus has nowhere to go.

    But if the last group of citizens to be vaccinated are vaccinated at a time when the first group are no longer immune because the vaccine is no longer doing its job, then that means there’s a gap which the dangerous virus can capitalize on to infect and to mutate.

    And mutate it does as part of the natural phenomenon of replication. Think of it as the macapuno tree, a coconut tree gone genetically haywire. Hopefully, it doesn’t mutate too wildly different from the usual strain so the vaccines will continue to work, as in the case of the annual flu virus: it is problematic, of course, when the mutation radically changes the makeup of the virus – which can cause issues with the way the vaccines work.

    We remain committed to achieving herd immunity. Sec. Charlie Galvez continues to reiterate his vow that we will achieve this sometime this year, though @HerdImmunityPH, otherwise known as Philippines Vaccine Tracker on Twitter, estimates that at the rate we are going we will be able to vaccinate 77% of the population by June 2022.

    But then there’s a second way of getting (temporary?) immunity, and that’s coming down with but surviving COVID. I half joke that this might be the quicker way we get to herd immunity – but with the surge in infections these days I may not be far from correct in my assessment. I only pray that anyone who gets infected is already vaccinated so at worst the case will be a mild one.

    Is it time for us to mentally prepare ourselves to be living with COVID, the way we live with the Big C and the flu and other diseases communicable or not? This may result in a sea change of life as we knew it to be: but life has been changed by COVID and perhaps changed forever anyway.

    Let’s stamp it out if we can. But if we have no choice then live with it if we must.
    Please get vaccinated when you can. Vaccines work. Stay safe.