SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - June 23, 2021 - 12:00am

From distributing ayuda to regulating face shield use to declaring quarantine classifications and rolling out COVID vaccination, you can see the government fumbling to get its act together.

The face shield confusion was resolved Monday night… we hope, so let’s focus on the vaccination.

President Duterte wants those who refuse to be vaccinated arrested and detained. He needs a law for this, and he has to make sure there are enough vaccines.

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Someone I know narrated her ordeal in getting vaccinated in the city of Manila. She had tried but failed in recent weeks, overwhelmed by the throngs of walk-in hopefuls. So she was glad when she received last Thursday night an advisory from the city government that there would be vaccination exclusive for residents of their depressed community in Punta, Sta. Ana, with 1,000 doses available.

She arrived at the Sta. Ana Elementary School bright and early at 4:20 a.m. on Friday, hoping the line wouldn’t be that long.

Instead she was dismayed to see a long line from the school’s front gate along Roxas street, snaking through Syquia, Medel and Suter streets and back to Roxas.

The gate was still closed and the school lights were still out, but many people were already seated inside the compound. Outside, social distancing was ignored by the large crowd.

As she found a spot to sit on the pavement at the corner of Medel and Suter streets far from the gate, she saw more people coming, some bringing with them plastic chairs, ready for a grueling wait.

From time to time motorcycle-riding police drove past, reminding people to observe social distancing.

“We waited for the line to move forward, but the whole time I was there, it did not,” she said.

At 7 a.m., a city hall employee escorted by three police officers announced with a megaphone that the 1,000 slots for the day had already been filled. But he said they were waiting for an advisory from city hall for additional vaccines, to possibly accommodate more people.

“In short, chance passenger na ako and I was sure that even if they added 500 doses, I could not be accommodated,” she told me. “I learned that people started queuing at 10 the night before. So there were no more slots for those who arrived from 2:30 a.m. onward like me.”

*      *      *

Why did so many show up for vaccination on that day?

“Because they heard that the vaccine to be used was Pfizer,” she explained. “The info on Pfizer spread like wildfire on Thursday night.”

And so, although the vaccination was supposedly for Punta residents only, some people from nearby areas like Pandacan also showed up.

At 8 a.m., the man with the megaphone announced that there would be no more additional slots and that those who couldn’t be accommodated should go home.

“Instead of going home, I went around near the gate to observe,” she said. “I saw tricycles, cars unloading people who directly proceeded to the gate, talked to the gatekeeper for a while, showed some papers and were allowed entry.”

A woman asked the gatekeeper why the new arrivals could quickly enter without waiting in line. The gatekeeper said they already had numbers.

How did this happen? Some of those in the queue complained to the cops. An irate woman was told that such was the system, first come first served, and there was nothing they could do.

Where was the first-come, first-served in that situation? There was grumbling about palakasan in the barangay and, worse, possible payment of grease money to jump the line. Mayor Isko Moreno might want to look into this.

On Saturday at past 6 p.m., the barangay announced that there would be another vaccination the next day, Sunday.

“My friend and I decided to go earlier than we did last Friday. We lined up at 2 a.m., feeling optimistic that this time, we would make it,” the woman told me. But again they were frustrated.

She said a friend had texted that she, her husband and a daughter had lined up at 1 a.m. before the allotments were cut off because the queue had started forming two hours earlier at 11 p.m.

“They were lucky to get slot numbers (near 1,000)… 1 a.m. pala cut off na, kasi 11 p.m. pa lang pumila na mga tao. Kailangan talaga doon na matulog sa site para makasigurado,” she sighed.

Her friend with husband and daughter didn’t sleep at the site, but they finally got their shots 11 hours later, at Sunday noon. Their patience paid off; they all got the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

*      *      *

Last Monday, after seeing near-empty vaccination centers when the city government stopped walk-ins, Yorme Isko reversed the policy, and the lines quickly formed again.

The woman I know went to a mall near her office last Monday afternoon, after she saw images of empty vaccination centers following the ban on walk-ins. But by the time she got there, the ban had been reversed and there was again a huge crowd – and the vaccine wasn’t even Pfizer. Certain that she wouldn’t make it, she gave up and left.

Maybe the no-walk-in policy should have been given a day to sink in before being reversed. Those long lines, long waits and crowding can be COVID super spreaders events, and cause so much misery. That kind of supreme inconvenience also engenders the collection of “facilitation fees.”

In my part of town, residents are alerted through eZConsult first about successfully registering online, and given a patient ID number. Then there’s an alert for a specific date, venue and time window, from three to five hours, to get the shot. If the person fails to show up, he gets two more chances in the next weeks.

At the vaccination site, the person must present his patient ID number before being given a number in the queue. No walk-ins allowed, as directed by the Department of Health – but the DOH doesn’t seem to get a lot of respect from certain local government executives.

The crowds have grown since essential workers under the A4 category were included in the priority list. But we haven’t heard the kind of horror stories emanating from frustrated vaccination hopefuls in Manila.

It’s a question of efficiency. Some local government units do better, in the same way that some countries have a better pandemic response, while we are left to grapple with flip-flopping government policies and incoherence.

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