Five exes and more to come

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - May 13, 2021 - 12:00am

Five successive quarters of economic contraction represent five exes of how the Philippines has floundered as a result of the government’s continued blundering. Without a cohesive and workable plan moving forward, this can even stretch to seven exes.

The second quarter of 2022, with two months already in lockdown that has extended business discontinuity in the country’s economic core, will likely reflect an even more severe economic contraction compared to the first quarter even if community quarantine sanctions are eased in June.

A recession that spans five consecutive quarters of negative economic growth is already too much of a burden, and stretching this for another or two more should prick the conscience of the country’s leaders, who for the last 14 months, have not worried a single day on where their next meal would come from.

If there is any compassion left in the hearts of our elected officials, allowing the private sector to start importing any of the vaccines approved by our Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be prioritized. Similarly, making it available to more sectors under more relaxed guidelines should be given importance.

More vaccines needed

By end May, about 1.2 million Filipinos would have received the complete two doses of vaccine for the novel coronavirus immunity. To vaccinate 70 million by yearend, 660,000 jabs must be administered daily.

Right now, after the government’s vaccination rollout commenced, the daily average number of doses administered over two months is at 40,000. The speed of rollout does not matter, though; it is the shortage of vaccines.

Some 3.8 million more vaccine doses arrived early this month and are now being allocated for distribution. This brings the total jabs available for dispensing to 7.76 million doses. However, the vaccine supply would be good only for 3.38 million Filipinos under the two-dose prescription.

The meager number of doses is not even enough to cover for the top two priority groups singled out for vaccination, namely the 1.76 million frontline health workers and the 9.5 senior citizens. Even if all the doses expected to be delivered until the end of June materializes, it would be good only for a little more than five million people.

Note that there are about 25 million people belonging to the first five priority groups (A1 to A5). To be able to vaccinate all those, the government will need 50 million jabs to include people with co-morbidities, frontline personnel in essential sectors, and indigent members of the population.

To see this happening is going to take awhile; in fact, too long a time if all the past and ongoing bureaucratic delays in the government’s procurement and distribution system is to be considered.

Shotgun approach

A shotgun approach may be fitting at this stage. Let’s give the private sector more space to take part in securing vaccines and establishing the necessary infrastructure needed to handle its distribution from setting up cold storage facilities to allowing more vaccination facilities where anyone can queue for a jab.

It need not be vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. These two brands have reportedly the best efficacies, but require handling logistics that would not be practical for a developing country like ours. More vaccines are coming up in the next couple of months and the private sector has a reputation for providing quick solutions much faster than the government.

The government can continue with its approach hinged on a priority listing, but let people who don’t want to wait to have the chance to pay for their own immunity. By now, many who’ve been cooped up too long will consider shelling out P5,000 to P6,000 to get the two-dose immunization or perhaps even the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine if it can be made available.

Timing considerations

The national task force on this vaccination rollout must also consider that time is of the essence. On its own steam, from inking an order to actually seeing the vaccine being administered, the government process takes roughly more than six months. Add another two to three months for immunity to kick in and we’re really looking at achieving some level of herd immunity well into 2022.

Our FDA must also realize that it has to speed up approvals that would allow more vaccines to come into the country without making us a dumping ground of risky brands. The effective use all over the world of many COVID-19 vaccine brands is already evident.

The government’s focus now must be to bring in the vaccines for more people soonest. This seems to be the best way now for us to start talking again about seeing the economy getting back to a normalized growth track.

Heroes no more?

Ironically, overseas Filipinos and members of the workforce not covered in the priority list are not being given importance by the government. In the vaccination rollout listing, they belong to the second and third least prioritized sectors.

A Filipino who has secured a job abroad will likely have to sit out months of waiting if he is not able to complete virus immunity, something that more countries are now requiring prospective migrant workers to comply with as a requisite to employment.

It’s sad that the segment of our population who have saved the economy for decades will be boxed out of a protection that they can avail of to find jobs that will  feed their families and prop up the nation’s growth trajectory.

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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