Ease up on vaccinated seniors

Should fully-vaccinated seniors be allowed to leave their residence as long as they heed health protocols?

Why not, argued seniors’ advocate and lawyer Romulo Macalintal, who pointed out in a letter published in this paper that this “special privilege” should encourage more old people to get their COVID-19 jabs.

A person is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the second dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus.

“Even a weekend pass, from Friday to Sunday for senior citizens regardless of age … would give (seniors) additional mobility for their physical well-being, and contribute to the reopening of certain economic activities in our country,” Macalintal suggested.

In May, the Department of Health (DOH) rejected proposals for a vaccine pass that would allow inoculated individuals to have unlimited access to certain business establishments, saying there was no assurance that fully vaccinated seniors would no longer get infected or transmit the virus.

Such argument, Macalintal countered, only “instills fear among unvaccinated persons [that] there is nothing to gain from being vaccinated, instead of encouraging them to get (their shots) by citing the benefits [for] those who had been fully vaccinated.”

According to guidelines from the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), only persons aged 18 to 65 are allowed to leave their homes, while seniors over 65 can step out only to get essentials—like food and medication. And while leisure travel has been allowed for areas under loosened quarantine, most business establishments, such as in Tagaytay, refuse to allow seniors access to indoor facilities. In all instances, basic health protocols apply, like the wearing of masks and face shields as well as social distancing.

But, as Macalintal pointed out, why are fully vaccinated seniors restricted, while their younger counterparts, who may still be unvaccinated, are given free rein? “Common sense and practical considerations would tell us there is more protection against the virus in a fully vaccinated person than in one who has not even received the first dose.”

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion has similarly pushed for “greater mobility” for vaccine recipients in the country, notably seniors, adding that a “bakuna card” or vaccine certificate can be presented to identify the fully inoculated.

Malacañang, however, backs the DOH position. The elderly should be “home-liners,” that is, “they should stay home because many of them have comorbidities… and are the most susceptible to COVID-19 infection,” said presidential mouthpiece Harry Roque.

Maybe it’s time to revisit the government’s one-size-fits-all policy? In the United States, fully vaccinated individuals can already go without a face mask in public, although large gatherings are still discouraged. The vaccinated are not considered to be major spreaders of the virus according to the latest data, noted Dr. Gabor Kelen, director of the emergency medicine department at Johns Hopkins University.

The minimal risk of vaccinated seniors going outdoors was stressed as well by Dr. Chris Beyrer, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who maintained that the coronavirus spreads much more easily in indoor, poorly ventilated spaces.

In Israel, as “vaccine czar” Carlito Galvez, Jr. himself noted, vaccinated seniors are allowed to go out, and those who have not had their shots are kept at home. The state of 9 million, which has administered jabs to half its population, has already deployed its “green pass” for the fully inoculated, giving them exclusive privileges and access to gyms, hotels, theaters, and concerts, albeit with some limits. The scheme to encourage them to go out, said one senior in a report, has lessened her feeling of being under house arrest and has been good for her social life and mental health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that being cooped up for long periods can have a serious mental toll, a warning likewise aired by the American Psychological Association: Social isolation carries a number of health risks and can lead to poor sleep, poor cardiovascular health, lower immunity, depressive symptoms, and impaired executive function.

That may explain why some Filipino families have taken the risk of indiscriminate gatherings to recreate some semblance of normalcy. But these have, unfortunately, led to superspreader events like those in Quezon City and Caloocan.

Drinking sessions and swimming parties are certainly not what seniors have in mind when they step out of their homes. A bit of sunshine, a leisurely stroll, a change of scenery, maybe a taste of some food they didn’t have to prepare, or a drive to the countryside—all with the requisite face masks, face shields, social distancing, and their vaccine card. Just how difficult and dangerous is that?

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