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Fighting vaccine hesitancy

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak - The Philippine Star

Our lives this past year and a half have been circulating around COVID-19. That’s not surprising considering the pandemic has determined the way that we work, the way we interact with our families, and the way that we run our businesses. Indeed, it seems that the bulk of the time over the past 16 months has been trying to find a way to live with this new highly restrictive normal.

But there does seem to be a sliver of light at the end of this dark and dreary tunnel. While the second wave and the return to ECQ last March put a damper on things, it served as a good reminder that the only way forward is through vaccination, continuing safety protocols, and striving for herd immunity – a fight that’s going to take quite some time.

I’ve written about it previously, but one of the initial concerns during the reinvigorated vaccination drive was that people would once again begin to become complacent and let their guard down. This has already happened before, and we all know how that turned out. We need to remind everyone that a vaccine, while helpful, is not a cure and we must maintain safety protocols like masks and social distancing even when fully vaccinated.

If we can all commit to this while pushing for more and more vaccination, we should be able to get ourselves to a better version of new normal in the months ahead. But this time we can’t afford to take any steps for granted. If we try to take shortcuts or try to skip ahead, we’re going to end up right back where we started.

This is especially true with the emergence of new and more aggressive strains. The Delta variant should indeed give us pause, but we have to trust the process and the path that we are currently on. Heightened awareness and taking the proper precautions are the only ways forward. Panicking isn’t going to help, and neither is complacency.

At present, the issue we need to face now is fighting vaccine hesitancy. We won’t be truly protected until we’re all protected and that won’t happen with people shuffling their feet or refusing to the take the vaccine. The government has tried to make it easier by doing blind vaccinations per center so that people stop picking and choosing which vaccine they want to get. However, in the end when a person arrives at the center and finds out the vaccine brand, they can still refuse to take it so it really all ends up the same.

In general, I understand where vaccine hesitancy comes from. After all, we have had bad experiences in the past. But we can’t let this dictate the future. Especially now when these vaccines have become essential to moving forward. We have to remember that the vaccines were created for a fight against an illness the likes of which we have never seen before. They are rooted in the science that has been around for years, but we can’t expect the data to be the same as vaccines that have a long and proven track record. We have to work with the data that we have available.

And it should cease to be a fight against which vaccine brands we want and focus more on which vaccine brands are available. While data will continue to be released for all the brands as days and months progress, we can’t let our brand preference continue to be the cause of delay. The World Health Organization (WHO) and our doctors and experts have continuously told us that the best vaccine is whichever we can get.

Besides, as we continue with safety measures, we need to look at the vaccine as just another added layer of protection and not an excuse to take off the masks and pretend life has gone back to normal. We should also still try to limit our exposure and not put ourselves or our loved ones in any situation of unnecessary risk. Again, if we take all the right steps, we’re going to make it through this to the other side.

At this point, we must follow the guidance of our health experts and try to turn off all the other noise. Fear mongering and unsubstantiated and unverified reports should be tuned out if we want to move ahead.

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Last weekend we said goodbye to former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III as he was laid to rest at Manila Memorial Park. Filipinos flocked to pay their final tributes to the leader who answered the call of the country and accepted the burden of leadership that was thrust upon him after his mother’s passing. We celebrate and mark the valued contributions of the former president and wish him the rest and peace he deserves.

It’s never easy to lose an important political figure and leader, and the former president’s passing must make everyone take stock of our political standing and of the future we are trying to build. The elections are coming up next year and as early as now, we should all be asking ourselves how we want to move forward past 2022.

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