"Our people should realize that vaccines save lives—theirs, and their loved ones'."
Problems confronting the country’s anti-COVID-19 vaccine rollout seem to get complicated day by day. At the national level, the government’s overall vaccination plan remains, at best, tentative and sketchy. Up until recently, even the list of priority sectors for vaccination keeps on evolving. Issues on whether mega facilities are needed to reach people who must receive the life-saving drug still haunt the government despite the existence of many other schools, malls, sports arenas, village clubhouses, etc. that may be used for the purpose.
Local Government Units (LGUs) are the ones implementing the inoculation program following the priorities set by the IATF, and using mostly vaccines provided to them by the Department of Health (DOH). Pre-registration processes of many LGUs remain messy when efficient systems should be a given with the present technology and the reach of barangays in their communities.
We have heard many horror stories of people who had to line-up for hours in crowds that barely practiced physical distancing just to get jabbed. As an A2, I had my first shot in April and the final one on May 9. For my first, it took 9.5 hours before I received my shot. Apparently, around 700 people flocked to the vaccination center. I saw seniors with limited mobility and persons with disabilities patiently waiting. The system (or lack of it) was crazy and everybody was potentially exposed to the virus. Needless to say, I kept isolated for fourteen days after, worried that I caught COVID-19.
This prompted me to write a long post on Facebook complete with recommendations to our LGU and it reached the mayor. The good thing is our LGU listens and the process was seamless when I got my second shot despite the big crowd.
Lately, the same has again happened in other Metro Manila cities especially after people knew that Pfizer vaccine is available. This is consistent with the March 2021 Pulse Asia survey finding that among those who want to be inoculated, the brand of choice of 52 percent is Pfizer. People went because they preferred the brand over others and the LGUs were again overwhelmed.
What I also observe is, those wanting to get jabbed are overwhelmingly the educated and middle classes up. The people I saw when I got my two doses are these people. One wonders what is happening in poor and congested communities.
Vaccine hesitancy is real. Pulse Asia’s survey showed that only 16 percent of respondents would like to be inoculated, 23 percent said they are undecided, and 61 percent said “no.” Sixty-one percent is huge and the government must do things to address this. The top reasons for not wanting the vaccine had to do with safety (84 percent), efficacy (7 percent), and the vaccine being not necessary (6 percent).
There are ways to deal with the doubts people have on vaccines. Certainly, DOH’s plan to not announce the vaccine brand will not work. First, it violates patients’ right to know and decide on what vaccine will be used on them. It’s unimaginable for the Health Department to even imagine this. Why would DOH risk exposure to the virus of people who will line up for the vaccine and who may end up only rejecting the vaccine because it is not their preferred brand? Why would people go if in the first place they already doubt vaccines? People need MORE, not less information.
To avoid overcrowding the sites, the government can do simple things WITHOUT hiding vaccine brands. They should announce the brands, at the entrance, issue numbers to those who wish to get the vaccine, and only allow the number of people that corresponds to the number of available doses. Announce that the slots are already filled up and CLOSE the entrances. This is really simple and there is no excuse why this cannot be done.
As what I have said many times over, GOVERNMENT SHOULD GO WHERE THE PEOPLE ARE. Vaccine safety, efficacy, and importance must be explained to the people. Our people should understand that all vaccines work and can save their lives as well as those of their loved ones. And government should lead by example. Those in government should volunteer to be inoculated using brands that people trust less. This way, those in communities will realize that government people trust the vaccine and there is no reason why they should not.
We are racing against time. We need people to get inoculated so less people suffer and die. We need to achieve herd immunity so we can all begin picking up the pieces and rebuilding our lives.
Sadly, we continue to lag behind our own targets. Per herdimmunity.ph, as of May 14, 2021 available data, the Philippines has fully vaccinated 786,528 Filipinos or 0.71 of the population or only 1.12% of the target 70 million Filipinos to achieve herd immunity. On a daily basis, we administer only 108,201 vaccinations; and, at this rate, we will need 3.5 long years or until November, 2024 to fully inoculate the target population.
We presently have 8,279,050 doses of vaccine which is enough to vaccinate 3.76% of the population or 5.91% of the target. DOH wants to achieve herd immunity by December of this year. To succeed, we need to administer 629,956 doses on a daily basis, or 5.8 times our present rate.
In terms of the vaccine brands available, we have 5.5 million available Sinovac doses, 4.5 million doses of which were procured and one million doses were donated by China. For AstraZeneca, the country has received 2.556 million from the COVAX facility. Of these, 1.5 million are reported to expire in June, 2021. Still from COVAX, we have received 193,050 doses of Pfizer vaccine. Meanwhile, government has bought 30,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V. Thus, the vaccines we have bought so far are those from China and Russia.
These data mean that vaccine hesitancy must really be addressed, not only for those who said they did not want to get inoculated but also for those who do not trust other brands. Our people should realize that vaccines save lives— theirs, and their loved ones’.
@bethangsioco on Twitter; Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook