Austriaco, Leachon allay concerns, encourage wider COVID-19 vaccination efforts at UST lecture

Microbiologist-priest Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., and independent health reform advocate Dr. Tony Leachon provided clarity on getting the COVID-19 jab through a free, publicly available webinar. The “Second Albertus Magnus Faith and Science Lecture” was held on October 8, 2021 via Zoom and livestreaming at the University of Santo Tomas Facebook page.

With misinformation currently rampant, the decision to get vaccinated may still be daunting for some people. Often, this choice may be influenced by faith and religion, particularly in the Philippine context.

 The UST College of Science, led by its Dean, Prof. Rey Donne Papa, Ph.D., in collaboration with the UST Center for Theology, Religious Studies and Ethics (CTRSE), Uniharmony Partners Philippines, and UST-CoVAX Awareness Team, organized the webinar to show how COVID-19 vaccination is an acceptable initiative across different faiths and beliefs.

Focusing on the theme “Solidarity, Equity and the Global Challenge for Universal Access to Vaccination,” the webinar featured two keynote lectures.

 “The COVID-19 Vaccines and the Common Good” was delivered by UST-CoVAX Awareness Team Lead Investigator and Department of Biological Sciences Professor Rev. Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, O.P., Ph.D., S.Th.D.  

“Each individual has a responsibility toward the common good and must consider it when making decisions.  In fact, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, ’We must strive to desire the common good more than the individual good, because in this way, we are more like God,’” Fr. Austriaco emphasized.

As more people get vaccinated, the transmission rate goes down. Being fully vaccinated not only protects the people who are jabbed, but also the people around them. Particularly, this protection applies most to the elderly and the vulnerable, which is why the choice to get the vaccine leads to the common good.

To illustrate, Fr. Austriaco shared that in Providence College in Rhode Island, USA, where he also teaches, full capacity in-person classes are already being held, but students wear masks. The student, employee, and faculty population have a joint 97 percent vaccination rate. For the Providence College community, herd immunity, which is a level of population immunity where viral transmission is stopped, has been achieved.

“With the substantially high vaccination rate, even their cafeteria now operates in full capacity and in a few weeks, the mask mandate will be lifted,” said Fr. Austriaco.

This live scenario currently contrasts deeply with the Philippines since, by November, it will be the only country in the world to still not resume in-person classes. In a COVID-19 resilience ranking by Bloomberg, the country fell to last place out of 53 countries, scoring poorly in terms of its vaccine rollout and its economic response to the pandemic.

To break the cycle of lockdowns, the Health Education Reform Order (Executive Order 595) author, Philippine College of Physicians Past President, and UST College of Science Class of 1981 alumnus Dr. Tony C. Leachon discussed his recommendations in his talk titled “How to end the Pandemic in the Philippines.”

Aside from increasing the testing, tracing, and treating efforts, Dr. Leachon said that the primary considerations to focus on include: emphasizing proper ventilation; subsidizing tests, creating a network of health facilities from barangays to tertiary hospitals, and improving health workers’ compensation.

Leachon also added the following considerations: providing timely and complete case data, having clear and consistent messaging; improving mass public transportation and its safety measures, making vaccination processes simple and transparent, and providing economic stimulus and relief for households when lockdowns are imposed.

The panel of reactors was composed of experts from different perspectives, including the Chair of the Episcopal Commission on Interreligious Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Most. Rev. Edwin Dela Pena, D.D.; Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches Commission on Justice, Peace and Reconciliation Executive Director Pastor Dr. Aldrin Penamora; University of the Philippines Institute of Islamic Studies Dean Prof. Macrina A. Morados; Ancestral Domain Tribal Impahalad and Arumanon-Manuvo Chieftain Timuey Lito Palma; and United Church of Christ in the Philippines Cosmopolitan Church Pastor Alvaro O. Senturias, Jr.

The interfaith discussion had common ground in its encouragement of vaccination.

The webinar is available for public viewing through this link. 

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