‘After you, Mayor’

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - February 12, 2021 - 12:00am

It’s Chinese Lunar New Year today. But instead of greeting, a strong reminder to celebrate it safely following the minimum health protocols to avoid getting the deadly 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection. Incidentally, I stand corrected. Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who even wore a Chinese get-up, was at the virtual celebration of Lunar New Year through Zoom Webinar of the Embassy of China last Saturday.

Even National Task Force (NTF) chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. on COVID response of the government was also present via Zoom. It was a respite for Galvez who has been busy inspecting and checking the simulation exercises to ensure the first batch of anti-COVID vaccine doses due to arrive in the country in the next few days are properly handled.

It was the turn last week of Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian to present the rollout plan of their vaccination program before the NTF inspection team. In our weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday, Mayor Gatchalian presented to us through our Zoom Webinar the highlights and challenges of carrying out vaccination program at the city of Valenzuela.

Based on their time-and-motion simulation exercises, the Mayor noted, it would take only an hour per person to go through the entire vaccination process from the time the vaccinee arrives for the initial screening. This include at least 45-minutes of observation period after being inoculated to watch out for any adverse events or side effects to the vaccinee.

The City of Valenzuela was among the local government units (LGUs) that signed up last month a Tripartite Agreement with the private sector-led initiative “Dose of Hope” to procure 17 million doses of anti-COVID vaccine from the British-Swedish pharmaceutical AstraZeneca. It was the first anti-COVID vaccine that got emergency authority to use (EAU) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United Kingdom even while still under phase 3 clinical trial.

In Valenzuela City, he cited, AstraZeneca’s anti-COVID vaccine will be distributed to 320,000 of their residents, or   about 71% of the city’s 650,000 total population. This is to achieve the so-called “herd immunity” set by the World Health Organization (WHO) to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gatchalian cited the actual delivery from AstraZeneca vaccines though would only arrive in the Philippines in several batches starting July this year. The city government, he added, is ready with the check to pay P150 million for the 640,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine. Like the rest of LGUs that signed up, he is waiting guidance from the national government when to pay to avoid getting into trouble with the Commission on Audit (COA) pertaining to advance payments of any procurement transactions.

Earlier, even President Rodrigo Duterte frowned upon advance payments required on pre-ordered vaccines. Since the WHO declared the COVID-19 contagion as a global public health emergency, such bureaucratic requirements should be considered suspended while there is pandemic, albeit temporarily.

Yesterday, the NTF admitted a “slight delay” to the delivery this month of the first batch of vaccines under the WHO’s COVID-19 Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI-COVAX) Facility for countries like the Philippines classified as low and middle income. The NTF identified the first batch of vaccines will be used first to inoculate health care workers in the four government designated COVID-19 hospitals.

The excess doses will be distributed to other LGUs in Metro Manila, the Mayor was told, and it will include some 3,000 health care workers from the DOH-run tertiary hospital Valenzuela Medical Center and four private hospitals in the city.

Mayor Gatchalian admitted the immediate challenge facing him is how to convince the people of Valenzuela City to get them selves inoculated of anti-COVID vaccines, whatever the brand may be. In particular, he noted with concern, the low number of residents who have registered online so far to avail of the free vaccination.

“The survey is ongoing. But, informally, talagang marami kaming constituents who are not confident to get vaccinated,” he rued. He pointed to the City Hall online portal called “ValTrace” that has been opened up for vaccine pre-registration for the past two and a half weeks. “But so far, we’ve already registered only around 14,000 to 15,000 individual accounts, meaning ganun kabagal,” he groaned.

For the many undecided among his constituents but are willing to receive the anti-COVID vaccines, the Mayor disclosed, some of their reservations is to see first the reported side effects, if any, to their neighbors who get inoculated.

And many of those with reservations about getting anti-COVID vaccines dare Gatchalian: “Ikaw muna, Mayor.”

So to assuage his constituents, Mayor Gatchalian declared in his official Facebook account as well as in the Valenzuela City Hall online webpage: “I’m registered, waiting to be vaccinated.” That is, he conceded, if his leading the inoculation could inspire and give confidence to them. The 42-year-old Mayor swears he has no existing comorbidity or any allergy and therefor “good to go” for anti-COVID inoculation.

“What’s important that must be drilled into the people’s psyche is that these vaccines have undergone rigorous testing,” Gatchalian stressed.

So far, the Mayor has prepared 17 vaccination sites all over the biggest school grounds in Valenzuela City to accommodate residents leaving around in its 33 barangays. The Estrella Storage Facility which Mayor Gatchalian described as a 70-year old food-and-pharmaceutical logistics company that has a 35-year old plant will serve as Valenzuela City’s cold chain storage to handle from point-to-point the delivery of vaccines until inoculated to their Valenzuela City residents.

However, Valenzuela City folks require: After you, Mayor.

The Mayor, with siblings Senator Sherwin Gatchalian and Valenzuela City Rep. Wes Gatchalian, join their patriarch Filipino-Chinese businessman William Gatchalian in greeting: Kung Hei Fat Choi

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