WHO official says ‘vaccine optimism’ a factor in health protocol complacency

PHILIPPINE STAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

THE World Health Organization’s (WHO) top official in the Philippines said “vaccine optimism” has contributed to complacency in following minimum health protocols, which is seen as a factor in the renewed surge of coronavirus cases in the past two weeks.

The country’s coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) innoculation program was rolled out on March 1, starting with doctors, nurses, and other health workers. Vaccine hesitancy, authorities said, has been partly addressed as heads of medical institutions were among those who first received the initial dose in public ceremonies.

“It resulted in the decrease in compliance in public health measures,” WHO Country Representative Rabrindra Abeyasinghe said in a virtual briefing Friday.

He said the same trend has been seen in other countries, as with the emergence of more transmissible new variants that is causing a rapid increase in COVID-19 patients.

“The presence of the multiple new variants… they have been associated with increased transmissibility,” he said.

Mr. Abeyasinghe said reviving “stringent quarantine measures” on a large-scale may be avoided if local governments effectively implement granular lockdowns.

Philippine experts studying COVID-19, meanwhile, suggest the implementation of modified quarantine levels to control the current surge of COVID-19 positive cases in the country.

Professor Ranjit S. Rye of the University of the Philippines OCTA Research team said in an online presentation on Friday that their proposed community quarantine scheme involves continuing “the localized lockdown… but there will be other restrictions added” over a two-week period.

The other restrictions include adjustments in work in offices through work-from-home or alternate working hours; limited social gatherings and public activities in enclosed areas; and mass transportation will be utilized only for workers.

After two weeks, if the reproduction number or the number of people that one COVID-19 positive case can infect continues to rise, Mr. Rye proposes the implementation of further restrictions such as a limited operations for essential businesses and total ban on social activities.

OCTA research fellow and molecular biologist Nicanor R. Austriaco, Jr. said in the same briefing that a strict lockdown could still be avoided if more people will implement a “personal” strict quarantine.

“To avoid a lockdown, we need to encourage our people to continue to decrease their mobility using a voluntary, personal ECQ,” Mr. Austriaco said, referring to the ‘enhanced community quarantine’, which is the strictest level previously set by the government. Gillian M. Cortez and Bianca Angelica D. Anago