FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - March 27, 2021 - 12:00am

There was much hue and cry about a number of mayors and one movie star jumping the queue and getting inoculated. Even President Duterte found it necessary to call another one of his nocturnal addresses to the nation to speak on the matter. But the core issues at hand seem to evade us.

The DILG was quick to spring into action, issuing show-cause orders to local officials found to have violated the vaccination priority plan. Most of them argued that local health officers asked them to take the jabs after low turnout in some vaccination centers resulted in left-over doses in peril of going to waste.

In some health centers, as few as 30 percent of those listed for jabs turned up for them. Several municipalities had to return doses to the DOH as a result. Or else, local executives and random people hanging around the vaccination sites were asked to take the excess doses.

In the rush to condemn those who apparently jumped the queue, no one seems interested in what could be a vital operational concern for the vaccination program: what to do about people who sign up for inoculation and fail to turn up.

The lower-than-expected turnout appears to be a widespread phenomenon. The health authorities have yet to tell us why this is so. Vaccine hesitancy could not be the factor here. After all, those in the list have presumably already agreed to be vaccinated.

This is not a small operational concern. The vaccines are scarce. They are precious. There could be more slippages in deliveries forthcoming as governments pressure their vaccine makers to halt exports and meet local demand first. This is true of the EU as well as India.

By next week, we should have two or three million doses on hand. That is a drop in the bucket. We are aiming to have 182 million doses to meet our needs. All the other countries are elbowing each other to get their share of vaccines as well.

When we are able to dramatically scale up our vaccination program towards the end of April, lower-than-expected turnout at the inoculation points will translate into a large amount of wastage. The vaccines with low storage temperatures will not survive inefficient logistics systems and miscalculations in the number of dosages needed. We need greater precision here.

Two countries stand out as benchmarks for excellence in their vaccination drives: Israel and the UK. In both cases, their respective armies played major roles in vaccine deployment. As a result the vaccination programs were carried out with a degree of military precision. This is, after all, a war.

Ahead of the errant local officials who allegedly jumped the queue, the more urgent inquiry should be the low turnout at the inoculation points. We must review how the priority and substitution lists were drawn up. The review must be done quickly, before we scale up the vaccination program.

The mayors, alas, will have to be publicly condemned, whatever their specific excuses are. This is important for public education to protect the scheme of priorities drawn up by the DOH, on the advice of the WHO. This scheme is indispensable to keep order and optimize the beneficial effects.

Besides, we could be liable to penalties for failing to enforce the scheme of priorities set by the WHO. At worse, we could be deprived of the 40 million or so doses due us under the Covax Facility. Our credibility as a properly governed nation is on the line.

The worse that could happen to our vaccination program is that it becomes permeable to the usual politics that permeates all areas of our national life.


The IATF has shown both flexibility and sensibility, announcing yesterday that the 400,000 doses delivered this week by Sinovac will largely be distributed in the NCR, Cebu and Davao where infections are running rampant. This is the correct thing to do.

The highly urbanized areas are also where infection rates are highest. This is understandable. People in these areas mingle in close quarters. The more they circulate, the more the virus circulates.

Every vaccine dose delivered to these areas will have maximum effect. We will save a bigger number from infections. Attack where the enemy concentrates.

If vaccination will stop the surge in these most populous centers, we will be able to stop the surge nationwide. These urban centers are the sources of infections exported into areas with less population density. These are where the battle must be waged.

We should not be distributing the vaccines like we distribute the spoils of the pork barrel system: evenly to the districts, regardless of actual need in the locality. Vaccines are weapons of our war against the pandemic. They should be targeted precisely for optimal effect.

This shift in the strategy of vaccine deployment might not have happened without the independent voices reviewing government actions. The bureaucrats might have been more anxious to cover their political behinds than in achieving the best results with the least resources.

As of last count, the hospitals in the NCR are being swiftly overwhelmed by the surge in infections. The main COVID referral facilities have run out of ICU beds. Many sick persons have been forced to sit and wait in the parking lots of hospitals.

The health care system is in danger of imminent collapse in the NCR. The only weapon we have on hand to avert that is the freshly delivered vaccines. They need to be disseminated quickly and efficiently.

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