FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - December 10, 2020 - 12:00am

The inoculations have now been administered in the UK. The very first beneficiary, a 90-year-old English lady, received the vaccine shot from a Filipina nurse.

Every inoculation, we now know, required a 15-minute briefing and then another 15-minute observation time after the jab. In addition, every dose needed to be prepared by a pharmacist. This is not a ready-to-jab dose.

Until an anti-COVID-19 vaccine is developed that could be delivered through a skin patch, the inoculation process will be laborious and slow. At the rate the vaccination process in the UK is going, it will take many years to inoculate all 7 billion human beings.

We also know now that the delivery and storage of the available vaccines could cost much more than the vaccine itself. The Pfizer vaccine, in particular, needs to be transported and stored at -70ºC. It requires an ultra cold chain to bring the vaccine to the final beneficiaries.

Only a few wealthy countries have the equipment to transport and store the vaccines at very low temperatures. Already, the distribution of the vaccine faces mundane problems such as the adequate supply of dry ice.

It will probably be better if we use vaccines that require less complicated delivery and storage systems. Otherwise, the cost of moving the precious vaccines through the archipelago will likely be insurmountable.

True, science will save us. But that will be made possible only by the highest quality human organizations.

The scope of this pandemic is the widest humanity ever saw. The effort to deploy vaccines to fight it will be the largest public health operation ever. It will require immensely better logistics systems and managerial talent than the Allied invasion of Europe during the Second World War.

If we could not summon the technical and logistics talent to solve the RFID system in our expressways, we are in big trouble.

It is fairly easy to make a list of priority persons for vaccination, as Vice President Robredo urged government. All that requires is pencil and paper.

What is truly required is assembling the human resources and building the logistics system so that we may efficiently undertake the vaccination program as soon as the vaccine arrives. If we rely on our existing medical facilities, this will be a long process indeed.

For speedier vaccine distribution, it will be ideal to set up an entirely separate network. But this will cost money that has not been allocated.

Then again, if we cannot put together an effectively working contact-tracing system using all the digital tools available, can we hastily assemble an effective vaccination system?

Then again, after the Dengvaxia controversy, will our people enthusiastically line up to be vaccinated? We need a broad public information program to precede actual administration of the vaccines. Our information agencies do not seem ready to take this on.

Many of our people rely on social media for information. Social media, we know, is so vulnerable to fake news.

The past few days, people were alarmed by fake news about an impending nationwide lockdown later this month. A couple of weeks ago, Sen. Franklin Drilon and his LP cohorts got away spreading fake news about the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC), even calling for the abolition of this vital agency. How do we protect the vaccination program from partisan sniping and fake news?

I have seen no indication that our public information agencies are preparing for this massive vaccine rollout.

Already, there is fake news being spread about the rollout. Government has been criticized for moving too late in procuring the vaccines. The fact is, as Sec. Carlito Galvez succinctly pointed out in an interview yesterday, we could not have procured vaccines earlier. The pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines required that we prepay any orders we place. Our badly conceived laws, however, make it illegal to do so.

At any rate, we are working with a scenario that we will have vaccines available late in the second quarter of next year. Most likely, considering the pace of everything that goes through our laggard bureaucracy, vaccines will be ready for administration by the third quarter of 2021. After that, we will need 3 to 5 years to vaccinate enough people to achieve some degree of herd immunity.

That might seem too long from today for those aching to step out of quarantine restrictions. But it is the most practical schedule, considering everything from our financial preparedness, the speed of vaccine production and the preparation of our logistics systems.

In the meantime, we need to maintain the mitigation protocols now in place. These protocols will need to be observed, especially in the holiday period ahead. In the mood of the season, people will tend to be more relaxed and more careless. They will tend to leave their masks down, inviting a surge in infections.

No one vehemently disagrees with the continuation of GCQ in several highly urbanized areas around the country. But no one celebrates it either.

No one will be pleased if the mitigation measures are kept for most of next year. But maintaining them may be necessary considering the long and complex timetable for vaccine dissemination.

All of us are afflicted with “pandemic fatigue.” But we see what happened in the US and Europe when governments yielded to the demands of those sick and tired of restrictions. Uncontrolled outbreaks happened, especially in the US where the Trump administration basically gave up on the pandemic.

We are at least fortunate to have a leadership determined to be stern if science so dictates.

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