A quick rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, with an eye on achieving herd immunity before the end of the year, is crucial to supporting the country’s economic recovery.
The easing of lockdown measures, especially in Metro Manila where business and financial hubs are located, is dependent on the start of mass vaccination program, as seen in the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to defer the shift to a Modified General Community Quarantine until the doses have arrived.
“President Rodrigo Duterte gave his directive that the Philippines would not be placed under modified general community quarantine unless there is a rollout of vaccines. The Chief Executive recognizes the importance of reopening the economy and its impact on people’s livelihoods. However, the President gives higher premium to public health and safety,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
According to Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua, placing the entire country under MGCQ – the least stringent lockdown level – would have allowed as much as 95 percent of economic activities to resume.
“The whole of government will work hard, in cooperation with various sectors, to roll out the vaccine so that we can further open the economy,” Chua said.
Under the administration’s national vaccination plan, at least 148 million vaccine doses will be secured this year, enough to inoculate some 70 million Filipinos which represent 60 percent of the population – the benchmark estimated by experts to reach herd immunity against COVID-19.
The Philippines is set to receive 9.4 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca through the Covax facility within the first quarter.
Acknowledging the delay in the arrival of the doses, vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez has asked for patience, saying there are several variables that affect the delivery and that some 130 countries have also yet to start their mass inoculation program.
But already, local governments are stepping up: snapping up doses following Duterte’s order allowing LGUs to make advance payments, preparing their own vaccination rollout, and even procuring cold storage facilities for COVID-19 vaccines that require thermal shipping containers or refrigerators.
“We are willing to go for broke, using anything and everything we have in the budget to get everyone vaccinated,” said Bacolod City Mayor Bing Leonardia.
The local government made a downpayment on Monday for the 650,000 doses of Astrazeneca that it secured, which will cover at least 76 percent of the vaccinable population in Bacolod City.
“They say the test of the pudding is in the eating. And as far as preparation for the vaccine rollout is concerned, we are ready to eat in Bacolod…We will be back on business and Bacolod will continue to ba a fast-growing city once things have normalized,” added Leonardia, who is also the president of the League of Cities of the Philippines.
Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, for her part, said the local government has set aside P1 billion to inoculate over half a million people, or about a third of the population that need to receive the jabs.
At least 24 vaccination centers have been set up in the largest and most populous city in Metro Manila.
“The target is to vaccinate 1.6 million by the end of the year. Our hope is really to achieve herd immunity for 80 percent of our population,” Belmonte said.
“The vaccine will be given for free and we will try to buy as much as we can with the alloted budget that we have. Given the demand, we strongly encourage our citizens to be vaccinated by any brand given that all of them will have the approval of the Food and Drug Administration,” she added.
In Makati City, Mayor Abigail Binay urged residents not to be afraid of the vaccine, adding that mass inoculation is key to spurring economic activities.
“I know some people are thinking twice about getting vaccine. Let me assure you we have dedicated doctors and medical staff to respond to any emergency. We have technology-enabled solutions to ensure you are safe,” she said.
“Economic resiliency is imperative so we will do what we can and all that we can,” Binay added.