By Pingyuan “Edward” Lu

(Director of Public Health Office, HSVG Mission)

Many worldwide well-known experts and celebrities emphasized last year that vaccines would be the only solution to eradicate the COVID pandemic. Guam’s recent case surge and Palau’s latest confirmed cases flying in from Guam have proven “the wonder shot” theory may be not so right.

Government of Guam declared on July 29 that 80% of adults over 18 has been fully vaccinated and lifted all restrictions but mask mandate the next day. Unfortunately, Guam island community noticed the tested positive cases went up in the second week of August, followed by significant hospitalization increase. Although most of confirmed cases and hospitalized patients are unvaccinated individuals, obviously the Guam scenario does not support the so-called “herd immunity” hypothesis, which suggests a high vaccine coverage would protect the whole population including unvaccinated people.

Guam is actually not the only evidence that rejects the herd immunity hypothesis. Many overwhelmed hospitals in the US are recently also showing the world that the pursuit of herd immunity does not seem so realistic. In addition, research findings from the US, the UK and Israel have proven the current vaccines are very effective in reducing severe illness and deaths, however, instead of preventing infections. That is why many breakthrough cases have been seen around the world.

So, no COVID vaccines are the silver bullet. A high vaccine coverage, even like what Palau has achieved, may be still not the indestructible shield. Palauans should not consider the country a “zero” risk place, although Palau’s COVID risk is absolutely extremely low. Nobody should drop his/her guard, especially when many countries in the world are trying to find a proper reopening strategy after suffering from the impact of lockdown measures for more than one year.

While the whole world is not able to eradicate the coronavirus so far and no country can afford the lockdown any more either, Palauans are lucky to have a wise leader, Mr. President Whipps, leading the country’s reopening in a practical and vigilant way. What he needs most for the task is actually people’s support, which includes thoroughly following all preventive measures and immediately adapting to the healthy new normal. The impressively high vaccine coverage has offered Palauans confidence. Every Palauan’s a bit more contribution to the pandemic response could make Palau proud of being a role model for reopening in the post-COVID era.

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HSVG Mission is a non-profit initiative based on Guam, specializing in health, sustainability and cultural diversity in the Western Pacific region. I am in charge of the Public Health Office and have been monitoring the coronavirus pandemic since the first outside-China case was found in Thailand on January 12, 2020. In addition, I was on the August 15 United flight, which brought Palau 2 COVID positive cases from Guam, and spent a week in Palau. So, I was there and experienced the reactions of the government and the people of Palau to the situation.

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