These local officials restore public trust in vaccines

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - January 20, 2021 - 12:00am

Early this month a handful of local officials sealed crucial deals for COVID-19 vaccines. Mass immunization is the way out of the pandemic. But due to huge global demand, stocks were un-assured. At the time only AstraZeneca was willing to supply directly – at cost – to city halls.

Urgency was key. The UK pharmaceutical firm was on a tight deadline. Going by the production cycle, it can deliver the first doses by July-September. To not miss the boat, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno signed the required confidential disclosure agreement on Jan. 5. Hours later Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte followed suit.

The two were the most ready. Not only had they allotted funds, their city councils also had authorized them to negotiate the emergency contracts. Moreno has P250 million on hand for an initial 1.1 million vials for 550,000 residents, plus P1 billion standby. Belmonte has at least P1 billion for 1.6 million constituents aged 17-up.

Speed alone sparked hope. The tragic hospitalizations and deaths would end; the economy would restart. Reportedly also first in line with AstraZeneca are Mayors Abigail Binay of Makati; Imelda Aguilar, Las Piñas; Carmencita Aguilar Abalos, Mandaluyong; Andrea Ynares, Antipolo and Jerry Treñas, Iloilo City. As well, provincial Governors Arthur Defensor Jr. of Iloilo and Rodito Albano of Isabela.

More mayors are known to have talked with inoculant makers Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax and Janssen. Among them in Metro Manila are Oscar Malapitan of Caloocan; Rex Gatchalian, Valenzuela; Marcelino Teodoro, Marikina; Toby Tiangco, Navotas and Edwin Olivarez, Parañaque. Metro Manila Development Authority general manager Jojo Garcia is said to have linked up the parties.

In Baguio City, Mayor Benjamin Magalong has long prepared an inoculation plan. So have Governors Dennis Pineda of Pampanga and Aurelio Matias Umali of Nueva Ecija.

Thirty-nine local officials are now busy explaining the need to vaccinate. It’s a tough job. Purported child deaths in 2016-2017 due to a new dengue inoculant had dented public trust. Nursing mothers avoid even long proven infant doses against measles, cholera, mumps and polio. Unhelpful is Malacañang’s hasty purchase only of China-made Sinovac even without Food and Drug Administration clearance, then telling people to take it or leave it. Social media also teems with “anti-vaxxers.”

In Quezon City fortuitously, Belmonte notes little resistance to vaccination. Daily education webinars are held for the undecided. “Citizens’ queries are mostly about safety and efficacy ratings,” she says.

Manila’s Moreno continues to think out of the box. Uncomfortable with the six-month wait till the first AstraZeneca deliveries, he seeks help from foreign governments. Boldly he gave three world leaders a roster of 5,252 medical frontlines in need of immediate protective jabs. Don’t let vials unused on your too frail countrymen or rejected by anti-vaxxers go to waste, he appealed; send them to us. He included the health workers’ mobiles, addresses and hospitals for ambassadors to ascertain for themselves. From vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez he also got commitment of Sinovac stocks for possible demand in Manila’s Chinatown.

The day after ordering from AstraZeneca, Moreno procured ultra-low temperature freezers. US-made Pfizer and Moderna injections need storage of -80 to -70 degrees centigrade. Both will supply only to the national government which will then distribute to selected locales.

City Hall showed off the nine regular stand-alone and 50 portable freezers at Santa Ana district hospital Monday. That boosted public knowledge even outside Manila of what preparations entail. Potential vaccine donors reportedly were impressed.

Yesterday Manila simulated a vaccination day. Health workers screened queues of potential vaccinees who filled up prescribed forms. “The time-and-motion study will make us perfect the actual operation,” says Moreno’s chief of staff Cesar Chavez. Six district hospitals, 45 public clinics and the largest of 103 school campuses will be the vaccination centers.

Also yesterday in Quezon City, Belmonte met with officers of the Philippine Medical Association. Main topic was what vaccines to get other than AstraZeneca. Advice is for her to prioritize those approved in countries with stringent regulatory agencies.

The 39 local officials share lessons in procurements and dry runs. Moreno and Belmonte are the most sought-after mentors.

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“Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” is available as e-book and paperback. Get a free copy of “Chapter 1: Beijing’s Bullying and Duplicity.” Simply subscribe to my newsletter at: https://jariusbondoc.com/#subscribe. Orders also accepted there.

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