Mega vaccine hubs

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - May 17, 2021 - 12:00am

Forget for a moment the Ipil-Ipil, the weeds, the dragonflies or whatever really exists on the reclaimed lot where ports tycoon Enrique “EKR” Razon wants to build a mega vaccination facility.

The more important issue really has all been forgotten – why, in the first place, didn’t the government do it?

Lobby groups raised every single criticism that could possibly be raised against the Nayong Pilipino project — from environmental damage to vaccine inequality to a Parasite-like narrative involving one of the country’s richest families.

But at the end of the day, let us not forget that this responsibility falls on the government.

COVID-19 response

When COVID-19 struck, the government took time to respond, failing to close our borders early on.

The hard lockdowns came a little too late and with little success in curbing the spread of the virus. Worst, it led to severe economic damage, plunging the Philippines into a recession not seen since World War II or since the country started recording economic data.

The result was chaos and the number of COVID-19 cases continues to straddle at an overwhelming range — now at around 4,000 to 6,000 cases a day.

Wait for the vaccines

As the pandemic spread throughout the country and our fragile healthcare system suffered starting last year, we were told to just wait for the vaccines. We were promised that everything would be back to normal once they are successfully rolled out.

Wait we did and most of us continue to do so.

But here we are five months on and the roll out is still at a snail’s pace.

Vaccine inequality

There are many reasons for this. One is vaccine inequality and this is what it really means when we talk about vaccine inequality — the rich countries got to place their orders first.

The Washington Post reported that 45 percent of all vaccine doses administered so far have gone to just 16 percent of the world’s population in what the World Bank considers high-income countries.

“A team at Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Center recently found that high-income countries locked up 53 percent of near-term vaccine supply. They estimate that the world’s poorest 92 countries will not be able to reach a vaccination rate of 60 percent of their populations until 2023 or later,” it also said.

Somebody dropped the ball

But when the Philippines had the opportunity to order already, we still bungled it because, as Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin said, “somebody dropped the ball,” and caused the delay in the country’s procurement of millions of Pfizer vaccine doses.

That somebody, Secretary Locsin later confirmed, was Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who did not sign the necessary documents on time which would have paved the way for the earlier acquisition of the Pfizer jabs.

While waiting for the vaccines, the government could have already built temporary mega vaccination facilities like the ones in the US with a drive-through area and a space big enough to accommodate 10,000 people a day.

But this did not happen. In contrast, the US transformed its convention centers and empty exhibit halls into mass vaccination centers.

There’s no lack of possible buildings we could have utilized for this, including the abandoned Manila Film Center, the empty Folks Art Theater, and even Imelda Marcos’ Pantheon, as the late Ninoy Aquino called the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

None of that happened of course. The government, once again, relied on the private sector to do it.


But there is mistrust on the part of some sectors of society when the private sector comes to help. Billionaire philanthropy is frowned upon and rattles some of those on the other side of the fence. It’s difficult to trust, and much easier to weave a Parasite-like, rich-versus-poor narrative.

The mistrust is not without reason, of course, as our history has shown us how crony capitalism, which goes back to the Spanish period, to the American times and to the Marcos era, hampered our economic development.

What would these billionaire businessmen ask for in exchange? There is, after all, no such thing as free lunch as businessmen themselves would be the first to say.

But perhaps in this extraordinary crisis in our country today, to help is no longer a favor, but simply a necessary act and the return to normalcy is reward enough.

All of us, rich or poor, just want this pandemic to end. These businessmen, whose respective empires have been badly hit by the virus and the government’s inefficient response to it, are no exception. They, too, just want things to go back to normal.

And when our government’s slow response against COVID-19 prevents that from happening, there’s really not much choice but to do it themselves.



Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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