Getting ready for the vaccine rollout

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - February 7, 2021 - 12:00am

Vaccine czar Secretary Charlie Galvez, whom I have been in touch with regularly over the past couple of months, told me our country will be ready to roll out 108 million vaccine doses from five pharmaceutical companies starting the first quarter of this year, initially for frontliners. Shortly after, large doses of the vaccines will be delivered by the second and third quarters, with a massive rollout set by the fourth quarter, hopefully reaching 70 percent of the population by 2022 to achieve herd immunity. According to Secretary Galvez, the country can expect a total of 148 million doses, excluding the 40 million doses from the COVAX facility.

Sadly, there are still a lot of people – not only in the Philippines but even in the US – who continue to be doubtful and apprehensive about having themselves vaccinated because of misconceptions, wrong information and even conspiracy theories that are going around.

One of the “fear factors” is that the vaccines may not be safe because of the speed by which they were developed – less than a year – because the record for the fastest vaccine development was four years. But as explained by US President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, there was no cutting corners, with no compromises made as far as safety and scientific integrity are concerned.

In the US, vaccine developers also have to meet the rigorous safety standards set by the Food and Drug Administration before they can be released to the public or given an emergency use authorization. These vaccines that have been given the green light by the FDA such as Pfizer and Moderna in the US, AstraZeneca in the United Kingdom and the European Union, have been proven effective although in varying degrees. But at the end of the day, any vaccine that has an efficacy of at least 60 percent should be good, including the single dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson that has already applied for emergency use authorization from the FDA, which could give it the green light by the end of February.

The sooner we get the vaccines in people’s arms, the better for the country so we can get our economy going – creating much needed jobs. Just as important, this will also lessen the burden on health care systems that are already overwhelmed as infection rates would be lowered. Israel is a prime success story, where one third of the population already received vaccination against COVID-19 in less than two months, with projections that the country would be out of the pandemic by March. Data indicate that the vaccinations are making an impact since the number of hospital admissions for severe cases among patients above 60 years old – the first group vaccinated – has fallen by 26 percent since the peak recorded on the third week of January. Confirmed infections have also dropped by 45 percent over the past three weeks.

Obviously, it’s a choice of getting vaccinated or risking infection and even death. Worse, you could become a prisoner in your home for a year or even years because according to BioNTech CEO Dr. Ugur Sahin, the coronavirus could be around for years.

There is no question that getting the people informed about the vaccines is very important, which is why the Philippine government is intensifying its information campaign regarding the national vaccination program with priority groups already identified.

Local government units are also thick in the preparations for the rollout. In Pasig City for instance, vaccination simulations were conducted to make sure that the process is efficient and time is maximized by planning out the traffic routes to designated vaccination areas.

In Marikina City, the massive Marikina Sports Complex has been converted into a mega vaccination center to meet the target 10,000 inoculations per day. In Pasay City, 13 schools and barangay courts have been designated as vaccination sites for 130,000 priority vaccine recipients.

In our recent meeting with Secretary Galvez and businessman Ricky Razon regarding updates on Moderna and the national vaccination plan, Ricky shared ongoing plans to convert a portion of the mega quarantine facility in Nayong Pilipino into a vaccination site, patterned after the Disneyland vaccination facility in California.

It would also be good to consult the checklist from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the best practices for vaccination, as it provides a step-by-step guide regarding patient safety, vaccine shipment, transport, storage, handling, preparation, administration and documentation for vaccinations conducted in non-traditional setups like offices, schools, community centers or makeshift clinics in remote locations.

We were very sad to hear some people didn’t quite make it to the finish line, like our good friend Jing Espiritu, an active Fil-Am community leader based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Jing, who is in his sixties, died of COVID-19 last Saturday – just weeks away from his turn to be inoculated. Jing Espiritu is also a close family friend of the Laurels. I worked closely with him during vice president Doy Laurel’s visits to the United States in 1988 where I arranged meetings for the late vice president with US senators, including presidential candidate Gary Hart, and a visit to former US president Richard Nixon’s Saddle River home in New York.

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Former senator Sonny Osmeña, whom I got to know well during president Estrada’s term, was a man of his word. I admired him for his individuality and courage. They called him the “Lone Ranger” but he had a lot of friends and admirers – I consider myself as one of them.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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