SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - May 19, 2021 - 12:00am

That scene at a mall in Parañaque the other day gives a good indication of vaccine preference in this country.

Video footage showed physical distancing tossed out the window as a large crowd descended on the mall. Lines for the vaccine priority sectors were blurred as people hoped to get a dose of the vaccine produced by US-German partners Pfizer/BioNTech.

Several residents received alerts from the city government about their scheduled jab. But word apparently got out that the vaccine to be administered would be Pfizer. Even people who were not scheduled for their shots then went to the mall. The crowd dissipated only after city personnel arrived and told the walk-in hopefuls to go home.

People can’t lament often enough that the country could have had 10 million Pfizer doses back in January, facilitated by the US State Department and our Department of Foreign Affairs, with the funds provided by the multilaterals. But our government, preferring everything made in China, dropped the ball.

President Duterte at least kept mum Monday night, when former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile asked him on TV if the US ever offered anything in terms of pandemic response. This was after Duterte again proclaimed his undying love for China, for providing the Philippines the initial vaccines against the killer virus that was first brought to the country by Chinese tourists from Wuhan.

You have to be scraping the bottom of the barrel to have Enrile as your expert resource person on the West Philippine Sea and the country’s ties with China and the US. How many times has Enrile changed his story on the ambush that he staged on his own convoy to justify the 1972 declaration of martial law? And what’s a guy out on bail for plunder doing beside a supposed anti-corruption crusader?

I’m a believer in the wisdom of age. But we had Enrile as guest on our One News TV show “The Chiefs” during his campaign for the Senate in 2019. It was painful to watch him grapple with symptoms of Alzheimer’s at the time, and it was painful to watch him Monday night as he and Duterte scratched each other’s back and vowed to defend Benham Rise, on the country’s eastern seaboard, a long way from the West Philippine Sea.

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Filipinos have largely been heeding the advice of health experts, that the best vaccine is the one that’s available. So people are getting their Sinovac jabs.

But the kind of chaos seen in Parañaque could be repeated. With more doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines arriving, health and local government officials should streamline their inoculation procedures ASAP.

They can take tips from the Philippine Red Cross. To get a swab or saliva RT-PCR test for COVID in the PRC, you go to its website and book the date, venue and exact time, to the minute, of your test.

You fill out a form to provide your personal details, and then pay through the various online platforms. The swab test costs P3,800; the saliva, P2,000.

Incidentally, the cost of testing elsewhere is highway robbery. A guy I know who brought his father to the COVID ward of one of the top hospitals in Metro Manila had to be subjected to a swab PCR test before being allowed to accompany the patient to the ward, and then the next day when he had to visit. The hospital, however, didn’t wait for the results to come out – which was in the evening, long after the son had been with his father the whole day. The hospital still charged a whopping P10,000 per test. And the worst part? The father succumbed to COVID anyway on the third night.

The high cost of hospitalization no doubt has forced many people to battle COVID in home isolation, at the risk of infecting the rest of the household. We will never find out how many succumbed to the disease in this way, with their deaths not included in the official COVID toll.

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But back to the PRC: it sends you a QR code along with the digital invoice, receipt and reservation validation with the date and time. At the testing center, you can just show the required documents on your cell phone. The form you filled out is already in their digital file. No need to fill out other forms or have an interview.

There are no checks for vital signs. You’re advised to arrive 15 minutes ahead of your schedule, but the admission process takes much less than that. If there’s any delay in your schedule, it is usually due to the difficulty of those ahead of you to build up the required amount of saliva for the test.

Once called to the testing booth, all surfaces that you might come in contact with, including the chair, are first spritzed with disinfectant before you are allowed to sit.

You are then given instructions on how to handle the saliva container. If you’ve built up enough saliva, or if you’re getting a nasal swab, you’re done in less than a minute. The results are emailed to you.

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I cite the efficiency in the PRC because vaccination is a simpler process. It’s not intravenous; doctors can self-administer the jab. And there’s online registration, whose data can be shared with any other agency with digital connectivity.

Instead there are mounting complaints about the redundant forms to fill out, the checks for vital signs that sometimes have to be repeated when the blood pressure of a person rises and he must rest to let the BP go down before his shot.

People have waited in line for up to five hours to get their jab, moving from one seat to the next without knowing if an infected person had used it.

Consequently, there are stories of people – so carefully self-isolating since the start of the pandemic – getting infected at the vaccination sites, shortly before or after getting their shot. And the worst part – which actually happened to someone I know – is for the vaccinated person to die of COVID.

There was a lot of noise about the country being fully prepared to roll out the vaccines, since the arrival was already much delayed. And yet here we are, with health officials making it clear only days ago that vital health checks would no longer be required before vaccination.

Yesterday, the chaos in Parañaque was repeated at a hotel in Ermita where 900 Pfizer doses were to be administered.

The disorganization has characterized much of the pandemic response.

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