Vaccinate all workers now

Feliciano Belmonte Jr. (The Philippine Star) - May 2, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The paramount concern this Labor Day is for our leaders to ensure existing jobs are preserved and new employment is created. 4.2 million are now unemployed nationwide, with 1-million workers losing their jobs in the NCR Plus bubble alone.

It is therefore imperative to further open up the economy to address the growing hunger among our people. But this has to go hand-in-hand with keeping our people healthy and defeating the surge in COVID infections. We therefore strongly recommend and support that policy priority by IATF should now be given to the mass vaccination by government of all private and public sector employees and workers.  While we welcome the expansion by the IATF of the A1 vaccination priority listing to now include more workers, including our OFWs and seafarers, we believe that prioritizing all workers for mass vaccination now will speed up efforts to defeat the current surge and simultaneously revive the economy.

For far too long, the health versus life and the economy has been treated as an “either/or” trade-off. Other countries have shown that you can knock down two birds with one stone, that there need not be a trade-off. In South Korea and Indonesia, the strategy of their respective governments in prioritizing vaccination of workers has seen a decline in daily infections and an upsurge in their economic activities. The IATF needs to consider this approach if we are to strike the right balance between keeping infection levels manageable while simultaneously reviving the economy.

The logic is simple: It is the worker in the office, factory, mall or plantation and in all of the thousands of micro, small and medium enterprises who are really and truly the most exposed to possible COVID infection. And yet all these workers are the ones we rely on to run the economy, man the machines and physically manufacture vital goods and provide needed services.

But by virtue of workers going out in public, boarding buses, jeeps and trains, going from their homes to their workplaces, they are dangerously exposed to possible COVID infection. DOH data will show that the majority of those infected with COVID are of working age as well as their immediate families. Either they pick up the virus in the workplace, their homes or in transit, and from thence the infections multiply.

We therefore call on the IATF to revisit their priority vaccination list and immediately fast track the vaccination of all workers now, and not just the expanded A1 priority list.

It is crystal-clear that our survival as a nation will now hinge on both keeping the COVID infection under control and opening up the economy. Mass vaccination of all workers and employees now is the key policy that the IATF must now prioritize and dedicate resources to. This will address the problem of growing numbers of the hungry and bring up the economy from the steep decline it has experienced.

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Feliciano Belmonte Jr. is former Speaker of the House of Representatives.

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