Filipinos can only look on with envy at Israel, which is close to reaching herd immunity against COVID-19—if it hasn’t already. Herd immunity occurs when enough of a population has protection against an infection that it stops being able to spread. In this situation, even people who don’t themselves have immunity are indirectly protected.
The actual threshold is debated; some say 65 percent of the population should be inoculated, others say 70 percent is a more accurate number. A virologist from the United Kingdom’s University of Brighton was quoted by the BBC as urging extreme caution in saying a safe immunity level has been reached.
Still, the higher the number of people getting vaccinated every day, the more secure a nation feels that it can at least contemplate an end to the health crisis.
Here at home, some 1.5 million Filipinos out of a population of an estimated 110 million have been given their first dose of the vaccine. Meanwhile, 230,000 have received both doses. Vaccines administered were either made by Sinovac or AstraZeneca. We are still waiting for other brands to arrive.
Many factors influence the rather slow rate with which the government is rolling out its vaccination program. There has been difficulty with the supplies; bigger nations have been first to secure the doses for their own people. Perhaps our own leaders did not have the foresight and preparation necessary to be among the first, which is why 3 million of the 3.5 million doses that have been delivered here have come only from Sinovac. Many nations have also seen resurgence in the number of new cases owing to the COVID variants.
And then there is the matter of distributing shipments to various local government units, and of these LGUs having the capacity to conduct an efficient mass inoculation.
Former Health secretary Manuel Dayrit thus stated what is apparent to many —that it would be impossible for the Philippines to achieve herd immunity this year. Given the numbers, we would need to fully vaccinate at least 70 million Filipinos to get to this level.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez last week claimed we would see a reduction in transmission as a result of vaccinations sometime in October or November this year.
While we wish things were moving fast enough here as they are in Israel or elsewhere, the most realistic thing we can do is keep up the pressure on our officials in charge of procurement and distribution—just in case the urgency of the matter has not dawned on them as it should. We should keep ourselves informed and updated on new shipments and the number of actual jabs administered, as well as call out LGUs who could use some improvement in managing the logistics of the drive.
Finally, let us do what we have been doing for more than a year now: As much as we can, stay at home, wear face masks and shields, wash our hands and keep our distance, help out others forced to live through this crisis without the privileges we enjoy—and keep track of those accountable for our sorry state.