"Our officials brought this desperation upon themselves."
At the start of the COVID-19 lockdowns nearly a year ago, we extolled our medical frontliners—doctors, nurses and other hospital staff—for their sacrifice. They risked exposure to the dreaded virus when they examined and treated patients. We thanked them profusely and held them up as heroes.
Over the next few months as the novelty of the COVID pandemic faded and we tried to get on with our disrupted lives, we became less appreciative of the travails of these health workers. They continued to pass the days by dutifully going to work despite the lack of transportation, by minimizing interactions with their loved ones lest they endanger their health as well, and made do with the salary and benefits they were receiving. All looked forward to the day when vaccines would finally be available, and had faith that in the order of priority, they would come first so that they could serve more and serve better.
Yesterday, Sunday, the first batch of vaccines from China’s Sinovac arrived at the Villamor Air Base. The first shipment, a donation from our giant neighbor to the north, contained 600,000 doses. Unfortunately, the are conflicting accounts with regard to the efficacy of the vaccines. In some trials, we are told, the vaccine from Sinovac is only effective half the time. Other brands have a much-higher efficacy rate.
The plan has been for medical frontliners and senior citizens to get the first jabs, but given this concern, there was a suggestion that members of the military, or economic frontliners, should receive them first.
And then on Friday, the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) recommended the use of Sinovac for health workers amid widespread reservations, prompting protests from the frontliners. It is logical for them to want to be given the more potent vaccines given the risks they continue to face every day. Certainly, their refusal to settle for something less effective should not be taken against them.
Today, Monday, a second shipment of vaccines—525,600 doses developed by British firm AstraZeneca, is due to arrive. This comes from the COVAX Facility, from which we can expect to receive 44 million doses. We cross our fingers that those in charge of deciding who gets these shots realize they have matters of life and death in their hands.
We, too, remember with distaste and indignation that suggestion from the Labor Department that we could make an exemption to the 5,000-a-year deployment of nurses and other health workers to Britain in exchange for vaccines. The British ambassador said his government had no plans to pursue this deal. A similar offer was made to Germany, a DOLE director said.
These are signs of desperation, indeed. The tragedy is that our officials brought this desperation upon themselves. That we are lagging behind in vaccine procurement and rollout could have been prevented by deliberate planning and urgent action that should have been started long ago.
This government should do right by our frontline workers. It should do right by all its citizens.