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Super slow

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - May 14, 2021 - 12:00am

Persons with comorbidities are second-tier priority in COVID vaccination. So why are people with hypertension and cardiac problems still having their blood pressure taken before inoculation? In fact people who don’t even have comorbidities are also getting this pre-jab checkup.

Father Nicanor Austriaco of the OCTA Research team has noticed that people are having their blood pressure taken even twice or three times before inoculation. Father Nic wants to know why, as he points out that people normally get nervous prior to getting a shot (or even at the sight of a hypodermic needle) so of course blood pressure will be elevated.

Waiting for the blood pressure to go down means a longer wait at the vaccination center. This can be risky; there are documented cases of people catching COVID at vaccination sites. I consider it a supreme tragedy to catch COVID in this way, and then succumbing to the disease.

I know someone who suffered this sad fate, after working from home and strictly observing all the health protocols throughout the pandemic. So it can’t be stressed enough that long waiting lines for vaccination should be discouraged.

Father Nic told us on One News’ “The Chiefs” this week that no such pre-vaccination checkups are done in the United States, where COVID shots can be obtained by anyone even in drug stores, with the jabs administered by pharmacists.

The US has so much COVID vaccines that it is launching “vaccine tourism” to revive its travel industry, giving foreign visitors Pfizer and Moderna jabs and allowing the shots to be taken at tourist destinations.

Several Filipinos are reportedly preparing to leave for the US as soon as flight restrictions are eased, to get their Pfizer or Moderna shots. This pandemic is truly highlighting the yawning gap in health care between rich and poor.

Father Nic also wonders why people in the Philippines need to submit three documents just to get a COVID shot.

He has been fully vaccinated with the Moderna jab in the US, where he teaches biology and theology in Rhode Island. Last Monday Father Nic returned to Manila and was immediately whisked off to a hotel for quarantine.

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Department of Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire acknowledges the issues that are slowing down the process of vaccination. She told The Chiefs last Wednesday that the DOH had already instructed all health personnel giving the jabs to stop taking blood pressure and heart checks prior to vaccination.

The only exception, she said, is if the person is actually looking sick – which is when the blood pressure should be taken and other emergency health checks conducted. A systolic pressure (the BP number on top) of 180 would be a cause for concern, Vergeire said.

The DOH order was handed down, she explained, after consultations with groups of specialists in hypertension and cardiac problems.

There has been some resistance from health personnel of local governments, Vergeire noted, but she stressed that they would have to comply with the DOH guidelines.

Speeding up the inoculation process becomes even more essential with the rollout of the temperature-sensitive jabs of Pfizer / BioNTech (and soon, according to the business community, Moderna).

*      *      *

From the 10 million doses that should have been delivered back in January, only 193,050 doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine have arrived so far in the Philippines.

This is the cost of dropping the ball on the Pfizer procurement, of relying too much on Xi Jinping to deliver all the vaccines Rodrigo Duterte could ask for, and of failure to appreciate the urgency of getting COVID jabs in the Philippines ASAP at all costs. Israel crunched the numbers and decided that no matter how steep the price, getting the vaccines to that country would still be cost-effective.

The arrival of the Pfizer vaccine, the jab with the highest verified efficacy at 95 percent (followed by Moderna at 94.1 percent) seems to have intensified Filipinos’ impatience over the vaccine rollout.

At the same time, the availability of the Pfizer shot – even if acutely limited – is fueling vaccine brand preference, as Makati Mayor Abby Binay noted Wednesday after the city began inoculating its priority residents with the jab.

All infectious disease experts agree that the best vaccine is whatever is already available. Still, the arrival of the Pfizer / BioNTech shots is making people choosy with their vaccine brand. Those who can afford to wait – mostly COVID survivors with verified antibodies – are delaying their shots until they can get their vaccine of choice.

Vergeire noted more people going to inoculation centers as the Pfizer jabs were rolled out.

With the continuing surge in COVID infections and deaths, another emerging trend is vaccine envy. Those belonging to vulnerable sectors – the elderly and persons with comorbidities (as well as loved ones who worry about them) – aren’t the only ones impatient to be on the path to immunity. People whose work constantly exposes them to infection risk are also raring to get their shots.

Local government executives are feeling the heat. Last Tuesday night, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno asked why it was taking such a long time for vaccines to be delivered to local government units and hospitals from storage facilities of the national government.

Moreno wasn’t even referring to the Pfizer shots, 11,700 doses of which went to tiny San Juan while only 7,120 doses went to Manila, even if the city also has the required cold chain storage requirement.

“Yorme” was referring to the 1.5 million doses of Sinovac that Manila was supposed to get from the shipment that arrived on May 7.

“I don’t know if they’re still letting the vaccines grow inside their refrigerators,” Moreno grumbled. “The global (vaccine) supply is unreliable, and it’s unreliable here because it’s so slow. I’m telling you now, the deployment is not slow, it’s super slow.”

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At this point, frustrated Filipinos can only look with envy as the handful of countries that have achieved or are nearing the attainment of vaccination targets begin gradual normalization.

I know everyone is looking after his own in this crisis. But there is something obscene about one country vaccinating its children and offering vaccine tourism while the air of India is filled with the stench of the cremated flesh of COVID victims, with piles of bodies fished out of rivers as even cremation sites are overwhelmed.

In our country, people who have lost loved ones to COVID feel salt being rubbed into raw wound upon being alerted by their local government that the deceased is scheduled for vaccination just days after the demise.

Every day of delay means more COVID deaths. It’s tragic; it’s unfair. For those responsible for the delay, it’s criminal.

COVID-19 VACCINE
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