Reader Rolando Fortes of San Pedro, Laguna, asked us: “What do you think about the proposed ‘vaccine bubble’? [When can we attain] herd immunity?”
We already made known our position on the first question, about the preferential treatment proposed for those who are vaccinated. We find this vaccine bubble proposal a political rather than a scientific issue. In fact, it has no scientific basis, especially with regard to the Delta variant, as we explained in a previous column. (“Can the vaccinated become superspreaders?,” 8/13/21)The vaccinated who get infected have practically the same viral load as the unvaccinated, and because the symptoms of the former are much less, with many of them remaining symptom-free, they are likely to become more unknowing superspreaders of the virus in their household, office or community.
So the rationale of any proposed segregation of the vaccinated from the unvaccinated, because the latter are transmission risks, is totally unfounded Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States have already revised their guidelines that even fully vaccinated individuals should wear masks indoors, implying that they’re transmission hazards, just as the unvaccinated are.
One of the bases for this CDC recommendation is a study from Massachusetts, a highly vaccinated US state. The study showed that in one of the city outbreaks in the state, 75 percent of the infected were fully vaccinated, suggesting that the vaccinated are not really that maximally protected to be able to resist getting infected. They determined their viral loads, and these were practically the same heavy loads in both the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
It’s quite clear, though, based on reported data, that the vaccinated are less symptomatic, and have lower risk of getting hospitalized and dying from COVID-19. That is indisputably a big benefit of getting vaccinated.
But to presume that the vaccinated have less risk of infecting others is illogical and unfounded. So, we maintain our strong opposition against any form of vaccine discrimination against those who choose to remain unvaccinated. Similarly, we are against any effort at making vaccination mandatory.
Since March, we suggested in a town hall meeting of the Department of Health (DOH) that we should be transparent to the public in disclosing that currently available vaccines do not confer sterilizing immunity, and the previous argument of the DOH that even the young should get vaccinated to protect the elderly and the children in their household is incorrect. This is the same incorrect presumption that the proponents of the vaccination bubble are using. In a way we can label it as misinformation, and responsible decision-makers should avoid such errors.
Like a mirage
Since March, we have proposed to our health officials and experts to stop promising herd immunity with mass vaccination. It’s like a mirage in the desert. In one of our commentaries, we described it as a moving target that will keep on moving away as you seem to get closer.
Remember, initially they said that once we vaccinate 70 percent of the target population, we’ll get to herd immunity. When some populations like Israel and United Kingdom exceeded 70 percent, yet still experienced COVID-19 surges, they said the vaccination target should be more than 90 percent to attain herd immunity.
We dare predict that if we stick to a mainly vaccine-centric strategy, even if we vaccinate 100 percent of the population and give booster doses to many, we’ll still not achieve herd immunity. In fact, we’ll attain the opposite—the vulnerable sectors like children are not protected and they’re even at a higher risk of infection. That is what’s happening now in Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States, and that is the exact opposite of herd immunity. I call it the paradox of reverse herd immunity.
It was considered preposterous when we called herd immunity with vaccination an illusion. Now, top public health scientists in the United States and Europe are saying the same thing. It’s about time we all wake up to reality and really rethink what strategies can get us out of this pandemic.
Governments worldwide should aim at herd protection with immune-system boosting agents, and get on with normal life in our healthy working class by opening up the economy. (“Mindset can make us victor or victim in this pandemic,” 2/7/21)If our working class is supported with cheap health-promoting and immune-protecting agents, even if they get infected with the virus, it won’t be any worse than the usual seasonal flu. And pretty soon the collective natural immunity that the population will have developed could protect the vulnerable members of society and prevent the emergence of highly transmissible and possibly deadlier variants.
We acknowledge the benefits of vaccination for the right target population, such as the elderly and those with significant comorbidities and who are generally immunocompromised. That’s why we strongly recommended that we should try to attain 100-percent vaccination of this sector immediately. As of now, based on national stats, less than a quarter of this population is fully vaccinated.
But for those with strong immune systems, it’s an equipoise—that is, the benefits of vaccination and its potential harm weigh the same, and it’s best to wait for more efficacy and safety data with currently recommended new-tech vaccines.If we can get our act together on real herd protection with a multipronged, multidrug approach focusing on prevention and early treatment, we may just be able to find our way out of this dark COVID jungle. INQ