COVID-19: New strain?

A NEW, 70 percent more rapidly transmissible, strain of SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) have been detected in up to three-fourths of cases in the United Kingdom today. PM Boris Johnson has ordered a new and strictest lockdown and travel ban yet in London and Southeast England. Whether this new strain, a variant, which was first detected in September, is more deadly is still unknown. Is it already in the United States, under the radar currently? Will the vaccines available today also be effective against this new strain? We do not know yet. Scientists are on it.

Regardless of this new [or another] strain and whether it is amidst us or not, it is prudent for all of us to continue the discipline and behavior of wearing a facemask (or two, like me, plus a neck gaiter because of my vulnerability) whenever we are outside our home, doing social distancing, and minimizing travels and exposure to crowd. Thou shalt not COVID thy neighbors! Looking like Darth Vader is not all bad during the pandemic, especially going to a bank teller asking for money.

Moderna’s vaccine was made available three days ago, following Pfizer-BioNTech’s which has started to get distributed. With the first quarter of a million shots, there were six cases of severe allergic reaction. Hence, people who are given the vaccines are observed for about 30 minutes before being sent home. Some people are also allergic to other types of vaccines, including the Flu vaccine, but the risk and danger of COVID-19 is much worse, and could be deadly, compared to the risk of getting the vaccine.

Are these COVID-19 vaccines safe?

Yes, most definitely. Some fear the vaccine because they feel it has been developed real fast (11 months) when compared to development of past vaccines, like Polio (23 years), the Flu shots (15 years), Chicken Pox and HPV (20 years), Hepatitis B (4 years), and Typhoid (29 years). There was no shortcut or rushed development. Proper stages of clinical trials and observation were made. What made it possible was the improved and more rapid technology in vaccine development.

An analogy: Simply because cars today are manufactured more rapidly compared with those of 100 years ago does not mean cars today are less safe. As a matter of fact, cars today are a lot safer and more comfortable with high-tech features, even compared to 55 years ago, when I bought my first car, a Plymouth GTO ($2,400 brand new!). Vaccines today (24 in a million) are safe. Realistically, there is no vaccine or drug or surgical procedure that is guaranteed 100 percent without potential risk because each person is different. What makes sense is to compare the risk of the vaccine with the nature and risk of getting infected with the SARS-CoV2 virus and developing COVID-19.

Does the vaccine confer instant immunity?

No, before and immediately after getting the first shot (52 percent effective), the individual is still not immune to COVID-19 and could get infected when exposed to the virus from another person. The immunity gradually develops, depending on how healthy and efficient the person’s immune system is. A second shot (95 percent effective) of the vaccine given 21 days later for the Pfizer-BioNTech version, and 28 days after the first for the Moderna vaccine is needed to achieve the 95 percent plus immunity and effectivity.

Missing the second shot will not protect the person from getting COVID-19 infection. It is best to get the second shot. There are five more vaccines in the pipeline (230 around the world), and one of them requires only one shot. The other 4 also require 2 shots.

The second shot three to four weeks later will increase the immunity to its fullest potential. Since these are new vaccines, and science does not yet know everything about it, the individual, after getting the shot, must continue to wear facemask and do social distancing, so long as COVID-19 cases are still around (hopefully not any longer than December 2021 or early 2022). The wise and prudent demeanor of the person after getting the vaccine is to behave as if he/she has not had the shot yet. Strict medical vigilance (with a bit of paranoia as I have said in the past) should continue till we wipe out the SARS-CoV2 virus and its variants.

How long will the immunity last?

The vaccines are too new to know exactly how long the protection it would confer to recipients. But the clinical observation among those who have recovered from COVID-19 infection, [seems to be that] it appears to continue to protect the person from re-infection, so far. The medical community continues with its clinical observation about the virus, the new strain in the UK, and the effects of the vaccines. Hopefully, the immunity would be long term. The vaccine is our hope around the globe, the beginning of the end of COVID-19.

Which is the worst pandemic?

The Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 (Avian in origin, lasted 15 months, affecting 500 million) killed 50 million people worldwide and 675,000 in the U.S. The Great Plague of London (1665-1666) killed at least 70,000, a third of the Continent. It is a part of the Black Death in 1347 that resulted in 200 million deaths in Europe, and it lingered for centuries. Smallpox, which was reported about 3,000 years ago, had killed more than 300 million until British doctor Edward Jenner developed the vaccine in 1796. COVID-19 deaths as of last Monday, December 21, 2020, was around 1.7 million. Seasonal flu kills about 250,000 to 500,000 each year worldwide in various countries, about 60,000 in the U.S.

Why is this pandemic getting worse?

Since we, the people, are the vectors (carriers responsible for spreading the SARSCoV2 virus, human-to-human), we are to blame. The reason why the pandemic is getting worse is obvious and clear: majority of us, generally speaking, have been careless, non-compliant, ignorant or refusing to believe that wearing facemask and social distancing (including avoiding crowds, minimizing travels) are effective in limiting the spread of COVID-19. Many believe their civil rights – to do whatever they wish – are more important than protecting themselves and the public from this deadly viral disease. The virus can access our body only through the eyes, nose, mouth, and wounded skin. If we cover all those access points PROPERLY, we significantly (or even totally) prevent the entry of the virus. If there is poison gas in the room we are in, what do we do to prevent death? Wear a gas mask or get out of the room. It is plain common sense. If we do not behave with intelligence and wisdom, this pandemic will linger and the virus will have more chances to mutate and develop a deadlier version for its own survival. Sometimes, I suspect, the virus is less arrogant and smarter than many of us.

Should we get the vaccine?

My wife, who is a retired pediatrician, and I will definitely get the vaccine as early as possible. My daughters, sons-in-law, my son, who are physicians themselves and front-liners, have gotten their shots. While there are potential risks, the value of the vaccine outweighs them when it comes to preserving life. This is an educated decision we must make, based on science, and not on a political, social, or religious one. After all, our life is our own. Just a reminder, though: it is the only one we have, and there is no spare in the trunk.

To one and all, and to the world, a very Merry Christmas, and hopefully, a COVID-less(er) Happy New Year!

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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The main objective of this column is to educate and inspire people live a healthier lifestyle to prevent illnesses and disabilities and achieve a happier and more productive life. Any diagnosis, recommendation or treatment in our article are general medical information and not intended to be applicable or appropriate for anyone. This column is not a substitute for your physician, who knows your condition well and who is your best ally when it comes to your health.

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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, a Health Public Advocate, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian and anti-graft foundation in the United States. Visit our websites: and Email: [email protected]

Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

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