Vaccines are safe and necessary
Vaccines are the single scientific discovery that has saved billions of lives for more than 200 years, since 1796 when Dr. Edward Jenner inoculated an 8 -year-old boy with pus from the hand of a milkmaid with cowpox, then 6 weeks later inoculated the same boy with smallpox virus. and found that the boy did not fall ill.
The MMR vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella; the DPT vaccine for diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus; the oral polio vaccine, the influenza vaccine, the pneumonia vaccine, the BCG vaccine for tuberculosis — these are just some of the vaccines that have become household names. Because of these vaccines, much of the world has forgotten the horror of a child suffering from a whooping cough, the agony of a child who struggles to breath and needs an iron brace to walk because of polio, and the tragedy of children born with blindness and various systemic abnormalities because of congenital rubella.
But the success of modern vaccination has been both its strength and weakness. Because people have not seen the suffering brought about by plagues prior to vaccines, they are also more prone to disregard the good they can do, and to believe the propaganda against vaccines in general.
In the Philippines, before the vaccine mistrust caused by the hysterical fear-mongering against Dengvaxia, vaccines were accepted with no trepidation as standard practice, because we were familiar with them since childhood. And we knew these vaccines to be safe and effective. Unfortunately, because of the very poor handling of the Dengvaxia issue, today the Philippines is reputed to be the most vaccine-hesitant country in the world, causing the resurgence of polio, measles, pertussis, and other preventable childhood infections, and the very low percentage of Filipinos wiling to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
It takes years of research and development ( R&D), even decades as in the case of the dengue vaccine, before vaccines can be used widely and safely in humans. The years of R&D are among the reasons vaccines can be pricey. Hence, the breakneck speed in which the current crop of vaccines against COVID-19 were rolled out makes a number of people wary about receiving them. They wonder: Are these vaccines safe?
The answer is yes.
When COVID-19 hit the world, it brought scientists from many countries together like never before. Aside from this unprecedented cooperation among scientists, the world also had the advantage of having the templates of the vaccines already available. SARS-COV1, MERS-COV, Ebola, and other past infections had caused vaccine developers to start the ball rolling long before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Vaccine development is an ongoing process, the templates were already there, and the quick development of vaccines does not point to a supposed conspiracy among Bill Gates, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and George Soros to create the SARS-COV2 virus just so they and pharmaceutical companies could make money on vaccines.
There are different types of COVID-19 vaccines. Some use attenuated or weakened viruses, which is the traditional way vaccines have been made through the years. Some use the new mRNA technology, which is faster to produce than traditional vaccines as they are synthetically manufactured. No, they do not cause the recipient’s genetic material to mutate, nor do they contain a tracking device. Hybrid vaccines, meanwhile, use a dead adenovirus as a carrier of a double stranded DNA that forms the spike protein of SARS-COV2.
Whatever the technology, each vaccine aims to achieve a similar result. Once vaccinated, the person (host) should recognize the vaccine as the active virus, even if only fragments or dead versions of it are injected into the host. This causes the person to produce neutralizing antibodies that will fight the real virus should the host encounter it in the future.
Before any vaccine is granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in our country, it has to undergo scrutiny by a group of vaccine experts who make up the Vaccine Expert Panel ( VEP) of the FDA. The VEP is given two weeks to study the data about the vaccine. Only when convinced that the vaccine has passed the basic requirements for safety and efficacy, the VEP makes the recommendation to the FDA to grant the EUA. The FDA Director General has two more weeks to finally grant the EUA. Once granted, the vaccine and its effects are continuously monitored. The EUA can also be revoked for cause.
This is a painstaking process undertaken by persons who are duty-bound to decide based on science and public welfare and nothing more. Sadly, the perceived attempts at overpricing and fast-tracking by certain quarters do not help build vaccine confidence. It also does not help that senators were “threatened” with being inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine because they were looking into the possible overpricing of Sinovac. FDA DG Eric Domingo reacted correctly to the news about Pfizer by simply saying they would ask Pfizer for updates and study whether its vaccine should not be given to frail and elderly persons or those who are moribund to start with. No hysteria. No malicious aspersions. Just the right questions and the right procedures to arrive at the right policies.
Is there such a thing as a perfect vaccine? No. Not even the safest childhood vaccines routinely given are 100-percent effective and free of adverse reactions. Yet we continue to use these vaccines, and rightly so. Because the illness and death that will surely occur from not vaccinating humanity just to avoid adverse reactions is too great a price to pay.
In Febuary 2018 ,former Health Secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral and I convened the “Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare”. Composed of physicians and academics, we published statements in media and gave radio and TV interviews, despite being bashed by trolls, in the hope that we could help bring sobriety to the Dengvaxia issue, halt the persecution of colleagues who had devoted their lives to science and service, and stop the demonization of a vaccine that, when used properly, could save many lives. I have since had the privilege of being in a Viber group composed of exceptional infectious disease and vaccine experts, epidemiologists, and other physicians bound by a genuine desire to help our country. Most in our group are regularly called upon to help government deal with health issues. And while we may have different political leanings, we are united in our desire to let science and public welfare prevail in the discussions concerning vaccines.
We believe that more should be done to educate our people about vaccines in order to counter the crippling fear that has resulted in only 33-40 percent of the population being willing to receive any COVID-19 vaccine. Will we agree to be vaccinated with any of the vaccines our current FDA deems safe and effective enough for EUA? Yes.
As actively practicing healthcare professionals, we will be first in line to receive the vaccines when they finally arrive. Many of us agree that we should be video-recorded receiving the vaccines, and these videos shared in all media platforms. I have been in practice for more than 30 years. I know that patients look to their physicians for advice on matters concerning health. I find myself giving advice about vaccines almost every day. Nothing speaks louder than leading by example. If our patients see us getting vaccinated, then this will do more to allay their fears than a thousand words or catchy slogans can ever do.
Celebrities, government leaders and church leaders should also do the same. This will help achieve the 70-percent herd immunity we need in order to regain our lives and livelihoods. When that time comes, I hope we do not go back to the old ways. We should strive to do better.
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? Vaccinate.
Dr. Minguita Padilla ( Ma. Dominga B Padilla, MD ,FPAO) is a co-convener of the Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare. She is the founding and current president of the Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines, an active consultant at the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Global City, and an Associate Clinical Professor at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital.
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