A war we can’t afford to lose

GO NEGOSYO PILIPINAS ANGAT LAHAT! - Joey Concepcion (The Philippine Star) - June 17, 2021 - 12:00am

As we move to the next phase of this pandemic, which is the inoculation of more Filipinos, we in the private sector have been thinking of ways to come up with policy recommendations that will give the vaccinated population greater mobility. This can be done when we achieve population protection (40 to 50 percent vaccinated) then herd immunity (70 to 80 percent vaccinated).

Among our suggestions are the vaccine pass (which for now can be the current bakuna card issued by the LGUs); the streamlining of procedures for domestic travel for those vaccinated, specifically eliminating the PCR test requirements; allowing restaurants and other establishments to accept more fully vaccinated guests; and other suggestions such as having separate areas or timeslots for vaccinated and unvaccinated people in workplaces and other high-risk establishments such as movie theaters, sports arenas, gyms, and bars.

Some of the suggestions are controversial by nature and have raised legal and ethical issues that must be carefully considered by myself and the other proponents in the private sector who have put them forward. This is a good thing; we must all ask questions, proceed carefully, and seek to find solutions that are acceptable and fair.

Let me just say that our suggestions are guided by data. As we can see with the case of Israel and the United States, achieving 50 percent total vaccination of the population is a critical point in the pursuit of balancing the need of saving lives and livelihoods.

Many also question how and why the concept of population protection came into the discussion. Many ask if this means we have adjusted our vaccination targets. Some speculate that the sudden change means that the Philippines cannot achieve herd immunity.

The answer is simple: Herd immunity is still and will always be our target. Population protection is a waypoint, a phase, on our way to herd immunity when we can already optimize the reopening of our economy. When we apply this, we can be more efficient in approaching this pandemic, safely ease into economic recovery, and have a better chance of winning through it.

Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” This is one mantra that I am working with. The suggestions are proactive measures as we reach population protection and eventually, herd immunity. In reaching the critical point, a game plan with policies that have been thoroughly discussed and debated shall be ready. Let us not wait for that time and only then start discussing measures for our economic revival upon hitting population protection. The time to start talking about it is now.

That is why we are constantly consulting with medical advisers and data experts to form recommendations that would catalyze the revival of the country. We can also look to the experience of other countries on how they were able to bounce back as they started vaccinating their people. In fact, my daughter just celebrated her birthday in New York – which at some point suffered gravely from the pandemic – and everybody was moving around freely. That is what we want for everyone in this country: to be able to go on with their lives. In other countries, they have been adopting measures like not allowing the unvaccinated to enter certain establishments or separating the vaccinated from the unvaccinated; why can’t we do it when we achieve herd immunity or at least population protection?

For now, the focus is on vaccine implementation and building vaccine acceptance. As I shared with Luchi Cruz-Valdes, Amy Pamintuan, and Roby Alampay when they interviewed me on their show “The Chiefs,” I believe that we will definitely have a merry Christmas. I believe that can happen if we remain focused on NCR plus and achieve either herd immunity or, at the very least, population protection (50 percent). I believe that we should give greater mobility and access to those who have been vaccinated. That, to me, is one of the greatest benefits aside from preventing severe sickness and death. Greater mobility and access is what we have to reward people who have been vaccinated, and there are many areas and sectors that can benefit from this. This will also encourage many of our fellow Filipinos to take the vaccine now.

We want Filipinos to experience the old Christmas. A Christmas where we could enjoy Noche Buena together, where we can have reunions, and where we can celebrate completely as a family again.

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