A faster vaccination process

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

While the initial months of the year focused on when the vaccines would arrive, these last several weeks were more focused on how the vaccines are being rolled out efficiently and who is getting them. As with several countries, the Philippines outlined their priority listing for vaccinations, including putting senior citizens and frontliners at the top of the list.

The vaccination program has been in full swing now for the past month in several local government units and we have seen the influx of social media posts about people having gotten their first or second jabs and encouraging others to do the same. This was initially just hospital frontliners, but soon senior citizens began getting their jabs too, and eventually even those with co-morbidities.

At this point, along with the safety precautions like masks and social distancing, vaccination is our best way to move forward to begin restoring life and reviving the economy. The only problem is that to do this, we need to vaccinate at a much faster rate than we are doing and convince more people to get their shots sooner rather than later.

In other highly vaccinated Western countries, we are slowly seeing a “return to somewhat normalcy”. In the United States, President Biden has said that those who are fully vaccinated can now go outside without masks. Vaccines are also being administered to children, initially as young as 16, and now even as young as 12. They have turned a corner since the start of the year and it looks like they are moving along at a fast clip.

Will they pay for this hubris in the future? Only time will tell. There is still so much to be learned from this virus and we can’t predict how it will move and evolve. It’s already been said that the vaccine may be less effective in curbing the spread of the new emerging variants of COVID-19, but at the same time the effectiveness against bad side effects, hospitalization, and death seem to remain.

So, at the very least, hospitals should be safe from being overwhelmed. That’s already a very good step forward. We can watch and see how vaccinated countries handle and contain outbreaks in the future, but for now we should focus on getting as many people vaccinated as possible.

The problems with this are two-fold. The first and most glaringly obvious is the lack of vaccines. We have a huge population and our vaccine supply is coming in in trickles instead of the big waves that are required to get as many out as possible. While we have taken out several staggering loans for vaccine procurement, they just aren’t arriving as quickly as they need to.

The private sector has also pledged to help and several companies have announced free vaccines for their people. But due to red tape and legalities, their vaccines are also coming in late. Many have said they expect the vaccine shipment to arrive by June, and we are all waiting with fingers crossed that these huge shipments come in by then so companies can already start their inoculation programs.

At the same time, most of the agreements also state giving 50 percent of the private orders to government-sponsored programs, which will hopefully mean that more underprivileged Filipinos have access as well.

Aside from the slow and painful process of getting the vaccines to the Philippines, there is also the uphill battle of convincing all Filipinos to get vaccinated. We have not had the best track record with vaccines and large portions of the population are still scared of getting vaccinated for possible negative side effects. While this can only be mitigated so much, the important thing is to explain the reasonable and acceptable risk. This is currently our only way forward and it will only work if the bulk of the population gets it done.

At this point we’ve all heard the phrase “the best vaccine is the one in your arm” and this couldn’t be more true. While initially, we might have been hesitant to get certain brands, the most important thing right now is to get yourself protected. More and more studies are being released about vaccine efficacy in the real world and these remain largely positive in showcasing how effective all brands can be. This will hopefully encourage more Filipinos to quickly get what’s available.

We need to speed up the process if we want to see improvements. Now is not the time to be complacent or slow because every day that passes means more lives lost and the country sinking even deeper into economic troubles. We have the means to make a difference and we all need to do our part to make it out the other side.

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