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Face-to-face with face shields

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - June 21, 2021 - 12:00am

It is with great relief we have been receiving in greater bulks the latest delivery of vaccine doses being procured and donated to the Philippines to control spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID) pandemic in our country.

There are still delays, however, as candidly admitted by Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the designated “vaccine czar” and chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) on anti-COVID responses of the government.

As key member of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), Galvez has repeatedly echoed the government’s commitments to reach the level of safe population during this COVID-19 pandemic period. The delayed delivery of some bulk orders of anti-COVID vaccine doses, Galvez explained, have been largely due to logistics support-related challenges like cold storage chain facilities. Galvez reassured though the public that these kinks are being addressed to get back on track the vaccination timelines.

Galvez earlier reported to President Rodrigo Duterte the timetable of deliveries of all the brands of anti-COVID vaccines far ordered and the expected arrival of some 10 million doses for the entire month of June. So far 4.3 million doses have already been delivered and distributed mostly to various local government units (LGUs) in the country carrying out the anti-COVID-19 vaccination programs.

In fact, the NTF’s vaccination program has already reached the category of A-5 priority population, or the poor and indigent people as the next target of anti-COVID jabs in the order of priorities set by the World Health Organization (WHO). The population priority categories were laid down for compliance by countries that received anti-COVID vaccines donated under the WHO COVAX Facility. Already vaccinated ahead were the A-1 for health care workers; A-2 senior citizens; A-3 for people with comorbidities; and A-4 for the economic frontliners.

Obviously, the biggest problem is still supply of vaccines while this deadly contagion persists and exacts a great toll on lives and livelihood lost since the outbreak started in March last year. The WHO disclosed at least 30 countries that rolled out AstraZeneca’s first doses have suspended the second doses due to supply delays.

As of May 30, over 5 million people all over the Philippines have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Of these, 1,189,353 have been fully vaccinated but which represents only 1.08% of the 110 million of the country’s population. The WHO has set a target of about 70% of the population of a COVID-impacted country must get vaccinated to achieve the so-called “herd immunity.”

So in the Philippines, we are still far by a long stretch to reach the “herd immunity” at this current vaccination rate.

Undeniably, the reimposition of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) at the National Capital Region (NCR) Plus have effectively slowed down the resurgence of the deadly contagion. As a matter of fact, the NCR Plus – consisting of the entire Metro Manila and nearby provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal – have since been downgraded and retained to the current general community quarantine (GCQ) “with restrictions” until June 30 this year.

Another wave of rising cases, however, have been observed in parts of Visayas and Mindanao. Like what the IATF did when there was surge at the NCR Plus, Galvez announced those experiencing surges in COVID-19 cases will get more vaccines once the delayed arrival of 6 million doses come in. In the meantime, the IATF reiterated its advice for affected LGUs to impose granular lockdowns in areas where there are noted spikes in COVID-19 cases.

While the situation of each areas differ in terms of the “gravity” of COVID-cases, there have been growing public sentiments to remove redundant health protocols adding costs to the lockdown woes. Bleeding hearts among our politicians began espousing and supporting in public the calls for the IATF to recalibrate the stringent health protocols and quarantine restrictions. From removing the face shields to resumption of face-to-face classes in all schools starting this year reverberated across the country.

Senate president Vicente Sotto III quoted the President telling him that the Chief Executive agreed with him on the need to remove the required use of face shield on top of a face mask, especially if one is already vaccinated. Other lawmakers heard the same from the President when they joined Sotto at Malacañang last week for the ceremonial signing of newly approved laws of the 18th Congress.

As a compromise, the IATF recommended the required use of face shields must stay on along with face masks in “enclosed public areas and indoor spaces” such as hospitals, schools, workplaces, and commercial establishments. Pending final decision of the President, the DOH reiterated the stand it is not yet time to drop the face shield, with its supposed 9% added protection against COVID-19, especially with the local transmissions here of foreign variants and mutations.

With the ensuing debate over this wearing of face shield as “only in the Philippines” mandatory, the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program continues to grind slow and low. Actually, President Duterte has more than enough leeway to overrule any IATF as provided for in his existing emergency powers to address our public health crisis.

However, the government must obligate the unspent funds for vaccines and other anti-COVID measures under Republic Act (RA) 11494, or the “We Recover As One Act” signed in September last year. The spending authority in RA 11494, or Bayanihan 2 for short, lapses by end of this month.

In today’s IATF meeting, President Duterte must decide again on new anti-COVID measures based on “science and data” provided to him by the epidemiologists, medical specialists, and other experts. For now, we have no choice but to continue with our COVID-19 lifestyle of meeting face-to-face with face shields and masks on.

FACE SHIELD
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