"Lockdowns should be a measure of last resort, not the go-to response."
There is something disconcerting about all this talk about the Delta variant and COVID-19 “high risk” areas as if we are unfamiliar or even unprepared for the spikes and ups and downs of this deadly virus.
This kind of signalling not only engenders undue anxiety but the erosion of public confidence in the ability not just of the government but of the citizenry in responding to this virus.
After experiencing the longest mandated lockdown in the world since the advent of this pandemic, we should now be very familiar with the common-sense responses to take care of ourselves and counter the spread of the virus. The problem is all of these talks lead us to the usual go-to response from the IATF – the threat of another total lockdown. It is as if we have not learned anything from our experience thus far.
In the first place, we have been able to quite successfully roll out our vaccination program despite the continuing supply restrictions. True, we have been a little late and disorganized at first, but we are moving better than most of our neighbours. In fact, we are told that close to five million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated and another five million have taken their first dose. We are also advised that the vaccines are coming at a much faster rate from all sources, the latest being the 1.2 million doses of Sinovac vaccines which arrived two days ago.
About 85 percent of the country's frontline health care workers have been vaccinated. DoH Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, who chairs the National Vaccination Operations Center (NVOC), reported that except for some barangay health workers in a number of provinces who have not been jabbed so far, the rest have taken their required doses.
Last May 25, Cabotaje noted that a total of 1,340,537 health care workers have received their first Covid 19 vaccine dose and that almost half of these or 580, 797 their second dose. In the case of the other priority sector, senior citizens, a total of 1,174,401 have been given their first dose and that some 10 percent of the group their second dose. Those numbers have definitely increased by now.
Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez said that within the next two months (August and September), we will probably have a semi-exponential increase in jabs if we get a good part of the millions of doses in committed supply delivered within the period.
The problem is no longer vaccination acceptability which plagued us and lingers due to the Dengvaxia fiasco, but availability of supply as manufacturing continues to lag behind demand. That supply and demand disconnect will probably extend up to the end of the year or early next year which will definitely upend all our efforts to gain herd immunity in the shortest possible time. But not to worry. We are going there.
Still we are crossing our fingers. Vaccine inequality -- the troubling disconnect between the developed countries’ rhetorics about “freeing” their manufacturers from a de facto embargo to ensure that more and more doses are made available to the less developed nations has yet to materialize as the pull to hoard to “service their own needs” -- remains very strong and unforgiving. Hoarding remains the call of the hour in these countries and among the manufacturers.
This has prompted no less than UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to emphatically remind one and all that the "war" against COVID-19 cannot and will not be won one country at a time. Indeed, the world must move in sync as one and not leave anybody behind. Otherwise, there will be no let up in the surges.
This is why it behooves the IATF and all concerned citizens to come around and pro-actively advance other measures to counter the virus while we slowly get the desired herd immunity in place with an accelerated vaccine roll out. There should be a number of doable measures other than the usual lockdowns, mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing routine which we have deployed since the virus got into our shores.
What happened to the use of that wonder drug ivermectin, for example? Whatever happened to the order of President Duterte to accelerate the studies and make this drug, which is known to have an anti-COVID-19 prophylactic value at the very least? Can the FDA issue its findings and, as is widely expected, make this drug a part of every citizen’s home care kit?
What about mandating other anti virus treatments like the anti-flu and anti-pneumonia vaccines which used to be part of every annual “change of season” routine in years past? Cannot the FDA or the DoH mandate the same while waiting for the vaccine supply to stabilize and the roll out accelerated in due time?
How about the suggestion to distribute vitamins and other immune system enhancing supplements to each and every household to at least give every family a fighting chance to counter the virus while waiting for the vaccines’ arrival? How about the regular use of other measures such as “tuob” and similar traditional treatments for respiratory ailments?
Indeed, there should be a number of alternative treatments made available to all citizens if we are to ensure that the delta variant and other variants which are likely to come and go as is characteristic of all viruses will not impact heavily on the health and welfare of our people. Lockdowns should be a measure of last resort not the go-to response as is now the usual practice.