HEART OF HOPE: The only way to win vs COVID-19

DR. PHILIP S. CHUA: Chairman of the convention of the Society of Philippine Surgeons in Las Vegas

My grandson Colin, 11, finally got his first COVID-19 vaccine last Thursday, after eagerly waiting for months, “because someone ahead of him had opted out,” his mother, my youngest daughter, Emily, an ophthalmologist in Iowa, texted me.

I would think all parents would be very eager to have their children vaccinated soonest and protected from this deadly COVID-19 infection, which was originally thought to be “kinder” to children. Statistics, however, show that there were about 6.4 million children infected, representing 16.6 percent of all cases of COVID-19 in the United States. The last two weeks of October revealed a 4 percent increase. Hospitalization rate was about 1.7 to 4.2 percent and mortality between zero to 0.26 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in various States. Certainly, without the vaccines, children are at an equal grave risk like adults, no more immune from getting this killer virus than older people.

Hopefully, parents would not stand in the way of protecting their children and allow them to get vaccinated. Refusing this vaccine for their children (like parents who are against vaccination in general and those who refuse the life-saver Gardasil vaccine against HPV of cervical cancer for their kids), is tantamount to intentionally depriving their children of an available and a no-cost life-saver and wantonly placing them at the mercy of a potential killer, all in the name of the constitutional freedom to choose. Is that love or wisdom?

In my book, Let’s Stop “Killing” our Children (in philipSchua.com and Amazon.com), the basic theme is healthy lifestyle and disease prevention starting from the crib, critically pointing out that some of our actions/inactions and decisions as parents could be detrimental to our children’s life, albeit all of them are (were) done in the name of love. That saying “no” to our children, whenever appropriate, could be the best lesson they could learn, and that allowing them to say or do whatever they want, regardless of reason or wisdom, could provide them a twisted sense of order, justice, respect for their fellowmen, and what their constitutional rights, civil liberties in a democracy, properly mean.

The Crisis today

The greater dilemma we have during this pandemic is the twenty percent of the population (around 60 million, according to a survey) who refuse to get the vaccine. These unprotected individuals become the primary targets of the SARS-CoV2 virus of COVID-19 which will live in their bodies and then act as a massive viral reservoir and laboratory, where the virus will replicate and mutate to deadlier strains, with greater transmissibility, and kill others with worse impunity. And the cycle will continue, exponentially, keeping this pandemic with us much longer.

One person, just one individual, like the first Chinese who got infected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, is enough to spread the disease to dozens, hundreds, and thousands within a few days. Today, 23 months later, we have nearly 251.3 million cases of COVID-19, and almost 5.1 million deaths around the world (about 47.5 million cases and close to 776,400 deaths in the USA, and 2,807,000 in The Philippines, with about 44,600 deaths.

When those high-risk individuals (immunocompromised or those with co-morbidities, like diabetes, hypertension, heart or lung disease, etc.) are exposed to even one carrier of the virus, the encounter could turn out to be a death sentence. This happened to two medical colleagues of mine, whose own unvaccinated adult children inadvertently transmitted the virus to them, killing them.

The proper strategy

A pandemic, like COVID-19, is like a world war. The global enemy: the killer SARS-Cov2 virus. Medically speaking, sans politics, religion, personal beliefs, there is only one way to deal with an infectious disease, like COVID-19, which is a serious killer. The epidemiologic strategy that can end the pandemic most efficiently, with minimal deaths, is prompt isolation, masking, social distancing, and most importantly, vaccination of every person urgently, without delay, when vaccines become available. This is the only proper way to manage a pandemic and save lives and the nation’s economy. A national mandate, a unified federal approach, is the only effective strategy for a pandemic, which is no different from a world war. Leaving the strategy to win a “world war” to every individual State (polarized by politics) will lead to chaos and confusion, killing hundreds of thousands, like what resulted in this pandemic. Medically, an endemic may be handled by a State, but not a pandemic. Imagine leaving the strategic decisions during a world war to 50 States! It is plain common sense. A no-brainer.

Painful reality

Every person in a democracy has the right and liberty, guaranteed by our Constitution, to refuse the vaccine. That is an unquestionable personal civil right. An individual in our society has the right to hurt or even kill himself/herself. While I may not agree that this self-destructive act should be committed, I shall defend the right of the individual to do it, akin to the sentiment expressed by the 18th century French philosopher Francois-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) about the freedom of speech.

But the sad and unfortunate inescapable reality is that the unvaccinated people are not risking only their lives but the lives of others they come in contact with. While they have the right to refuse the vaccines and get infected, they do not have the right to infect and kill others (albeit unintentionally).

How would the unvaccinated persons feel when people with active highly transmissible tuberculosis or infected with killer ebola (who refuse treatments on constitutional grounds) are not isolated and mingle among them?

Annual COVID-19 shot?

So long as there are people who are unvaccinated and carrier of the virus), COVID-19 will linger around, with no end in sight. There will be outbreaks and surges, every now and then. If there are no hosts (human bodies), viruses self destruct. With so many unvaccinated people, COVID-19 infections will remain with us and it is possible that, later, a yearly COVID-19 vaccine might be necessary, like the annual fly shots. God forbid.

( Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. Websites: FUN8888.com and philipSchua.com   Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com)