Austriaco: ‘Let us celebrate Pasko’ despite variant threat
MANILA - Unvaccinated Filipinos should immediately get jabbed with the COVID-19 vaccine to prepare for the entry of the Omicron variant in the country, a priest-scientist said Monday.
Microbiologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, a Dominican and fellow of the OCTA Research group, said during a televised briefing with President Rodrigo Duterte that caution and preparation should accompany the observance of the holidays.
Austriaco, who is currently in the US, said vaccination especially of people around the country’s travel gateways would help stem the spread of the variant, which has not yet been detected in the country.
“I must urge you to get vaccinated. Because Omicron, when it arrives in the Philippines, will find every unvaccinated Filipino and you will get sick,” he said.
“Omicron will enter through an airport most likely. So what we have to do is we have to build a wall of vaccinated Filipinos around these airports. Because once Omicron arrives, it will try to spread into the Filipino population. And if the Filipinos around the airports are heavily vaccinated, then it doesn’t matter if there is an OFW who returns home. Because even if the person is able to enter the community, the virus will struggle.”
Other measures Austriaco proposed for meeting the threat are preparing hospital infrastructure and increased staffing of health care workers.
Citing studies in South Africa, where scientists first discovered the variant, Austriaco said Omicron cases are not rising as fast as those caused by the Delta variant. Another study said Omicron was more transmissible among the vaccinated, many of those hospitalized from the variant were unvaccinated.
Despite global concern over the Omicron variant, Austriaco said the current Philippine COVID-19 situation was optimistic, adding Filipinos can freely mark the holidays.
“First, there is no need to panic. Let us celebrate Pasko. This is the best time in 20 months for the entire country,” he said.
“This is not the time to panic. It is a time to be careful, we have to prepare, but we also have to celebrate especially since this is Christmas.”
He noted the country now has has the lowest case numbers (average of 500 a day) and the lowest hospitalizations in more than a year and a half and its highest mobility levels since the pandemic began.
“The fact that the virus is struggling to find new Filipinos to infect suggests that we have obtained substantial population immunity," he said.
Austriaco added Metro Manila would likely stand against a future surge in cases like those in other countries.
“At this time, given our significant high numbers of vaccination not only in NCR but in many of our cities... what we’re seeing here is that at least the NCR, with nearly a hundred percent protection of the adults and increasing numbers of our teenagers, is probably going to be robustly protected against the future surge.” (42:17)
Impressed with Austriaco’s briefing, Duterte jokingly offered him the post of current Health Sec. Francisco Duque.
"I would be happy to appoint you as the secretary of Health if that's okay with you.”
Austriaco has been developing a yeast-based vaccine against COVID-19.
Aside from the continued vaccination drive, the priest-scientist believes the government should focus on procuring anti-viral drugs as “the way out” in transitioning from the pandemic to an endemic COVID-19.