FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - March 2, 2021 - 12:00am

There was palpable excitement in the air yesterday morning. The first batch of Sinovac doses arrived Sunday and distributed to select hospitals early Monday morning. Officials responsible for managing the public health crisis were out in full force.

The vaccination program has been rolled out. This is the beginning of an arduous journey to return the nation to normalcy.

There have been dry runs the past few weeks. Every health worker involved in this effort knew exactly what he had to do in the triages.

According to the vaccination plan, the health workers and the military will get first crack at the available jabs. Seniors will come up next.

The first batch of 600,000 Sinovac doses is part of a 2 million-dose donation from China. So grateful is President Duterte, he announced a visit to Beijing to personally thank the Chinese leader Xi Jinping. So hopeful the President was as he welcomed the maiden delivery, he indicated he might decide to relax quarantine restrictions so that the economy may breathe more freely.

In a few more days, we expect a major delivery of AstraZeneca vaccines. Pfizer vaccines from the WHO Covax facility will soon follow. By the second quarter, we will be getting the vaccines we ordered for the national government, local governments and private sector consortia.

What is now a trickle will soon become a flood. The country placed orders for 178 million doses. That is more than enough to achieve herd immunity for our people.

Administering the vaccine through inoculation is a tedious process. The whole program will test the capacity of our public health system. Everyone seems confident we could outdo ourselves.

The only possible exception to the general optimism is the constantly pessimistic chatter from opposition politicians inhabiting the sidelines. One of them proposed the totally insane idea that we send a delegation for the plant facilities of the vaccine makers. Unless that is a delegation of molecular biologists and epidemiologists, this will be nothing more than an absolute junket. We have to trust the certification process of international organizations such as the WHO. Science is always transparent.

We know from the extensive trials conducted over the past few months that even the so-called “less efficacious” vaccine varieties have truly remarkable abilities to prevent severe infections. The trials, involving thousands of volunteers, actually report zero deaths among recipients across the board. The doubts cast by chattering politicians about the “less efficacious” varieties is really pure slander.

A few months from now, the spectacle of people lining up to be inoculated will seem a little quaint. There are now several vaccine varieties undergoing trials where the dose is administered through inhalants. There will be no more need for jabs. The inhalants could simply be distributed to the world’s billions.

This will be the equivalent of the reliable saliva tests now used to screen infections. They are less obtrusive and yield to faster testing procedures.


The new post-COVID world has not dawned yet.

For all the awesome science that now made available reliable vaccines, the real front line against the pandemic is really our own immune system. Vaccines merely activate the antibodies that will prevent the virus from reproducing once they enter our system.

Even if we are vaccinated, we could still acquire the virus. The difference is that with the vaccine we are better able to quash the infection. But the virus still circulates even if vaccination raises the ratio of asymptomatic but infected persons.

What this means is that we have to maintain the basic health protocols now a year in place. Even if quarantine standards are relaxed later this month or the next, we still need to mask up, wash our hands frequently and maintain social distance. These are habits that need to be deeply ingrained.

One major reason COVID-19 did not reproduce as widely in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong as it did in Europe and North America is that the Asian countries continued to mask up years after the SARS epidemic swept through the region. Masking up reduced the ability of the virus to circulate feely.

The Americans and Europeans, at the onset, chaffed at the mask mandates and even organized protests against them. In the US, masking up was thoroughly politicized, thanks to the disinformation of ignorant political leaders. The result of that we see in the horrible numbers of infections and deaths.

While it might be time to relax the quarantine restrictions, it is not yet time to let down our guard when it comes to personal protection. Relaxing quarantine restrictions simply reduces the role of enforcement agencies in maintaining common sense health standards. Personal discipline becomes more important.

The vaccination program will preoccupy us the next year or two. It will be such a gigantic effort to get about 70 million Filipinos inoculated.

The path ahead will not be flawless. There will be problems concerning the timeliness of deliveries and possibly errors in execution. But nothing will invalidate this monumental effort to protect our people from a deadly pandemic.

By the third quarter, there will be more vaccine manufacturers in the game. The gap between demand and supply will not be as severe as it is now. New knowledge might discover ways to administer the vaccines in a more efficient manner. This is a Herculean effort undertaken by all of humanity for all of humanity.

Years from now, we will remember March 1 as a happy day. Armed with vaccines we took the pandemic by the horns.

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