At their own risks

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The National Task Force (NTF) implementing the Philippine government’s responses against the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic reported a total of almost 12 million doses of anti-COVID-19 vaccines that were already administered nationwide. Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., who is the NTF’s chief implementer and designated “vaccine czar” cited that 8,839,124 individuals have received their first doses while 2,868,905 have already completed the required two doses.

Now in the 18th week, the Department of Health estimates to attain by November this year the so-called “population protection” at this vaccination rate. Until then, the danger of COVID-19 contagion lurks around as the No.1 public health threat.

Galvez noted the bulk of these anti-COVID vaccines came from the COVAX Facility of the World Health Organization (WHO). The COVAX is a global initiative co-founded by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the WHO to accelerate the development, production, and universal access to new COVID-19 vaccines across the world for all participating countries that included the Philippines.

The government’s national vaccination program rollout started last March 1 shortly after the arrival of the first batch of one million doses of Sinovac vaccine donated to the Philippines by Beijing. Our government bought the next two million Sinovac doses.

The roll out of Oxford–AstraZeneca under the COVAX Facility began on March 6. Two more anti-COVID vaccines, trial batch of Gamaleya Sputnik-V arrived and Pfizer vaccines donated by the United States were rolled out here one after the other in May.  On June 30, Moderna bought by the private sector began the rollout in Metro Manila and other parts of the country where there are high COVID-19 cases.

The Philippines will be receiving next about 800,000 to 1 million anti-COVID vaccine doses of Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, or Moderna donations from the US possibly within this month. As earlier announced by the Japanese embassy in Manila, the Philippines will be receiving by tomorrow a donation of 1,100,000 vaccine doses of AstraZeneca from the government of Japan.

With more than enough anti-COVID vaccines being delivered, the national and local government units (LGUs) have started the vaccination for A-5, or the indigent people in the order of the priority groups for the donated anti-COVID vaccines. This is in compliance with WHO priority list identifying groups of population as primary beneficiaries of the donated anti-COVID vaccines under the COVAX Facility. The first group of vaccinees were the health care workers as A-1; then senior citizens as A-2; people with comorbidity as A-3; and, economic frontliners in government and private offices as A-4.

“Regardless of vaccination status, everyone is urged to continue practicing the minimum public health standards as you may still get infected with COVID-19 and infect other people,” the NTF against COVID-19 clarified.

The warning struck a sad note following a COVID-related death last Sunday of a very dear relative in Bulacan. At age 74, my relative had no existing comorbidity but as A-2, he and his wife got anti-COVID jabs last May. They received their second dose of Sinovac only last June 4.

Exactly a month after, he succumbed to cardiac arrest following a bout of mild pneumonia a few days after he tested positive with COVID-19. He and his wife got infected by COVID-19 by their son who lives with them with his own family at their house in Pulilan. His death is now included in the list of COVID fatalities in the country that stood at 25,149 as of Sunday.

In order to stay COVID-free, we must continue wearing face masks, strictly follow health protocols from constant use of alcohol or washing of hands with soap and water, observing social or physical distancing, and avoiding long stay in enclosed places.

Obviously, there is no other choice for us even though we are vaccinated already.

In the meantime, many LGUs at the national capital region (NCR) have been running out of supply of anti-COVID vaccines distributed to them by the national government. The cities of Makati and Muntinlupa suspended some components of their anti-COVID-19 vaccination programs.

Makati City Mayor Abby Binay announced last Monday the city government would stop giving the first dose of COVID-19 doses to the A-4 category. The Muntinlupa City government, on the other hand, declared it would no longer accept “walk-in” at their vaccination sites due to limited vaccine supply.

Fortunately, the procurement by the private sector for their own anti-COVID vaccines they pre-ordered under the Tripartite Agreement with the government and vaccine-makers of Moderna and AstraZeneca have already started arriving. Meanwhile, the participating LGUs will receive their respective vaccine orders starting next month at the latest.

Amid these scheduled new vaccine deliveries, there is yet another cause of concern for the Inter-Agency Task Force in the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID). This is the discovery and arrest of several unscrupulous people probably engaged in smuggling of Sinovac from still undetermined source and selling them at a higher price to willing victims.

In his “talk-to-the people” after holding the IATF meeting at Malacanang on June 21, President Duterte threatened the arrest of people who refuse to take COVID-19 jabs, or  who do not wear mask and face shield in public places.

At this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no denying this pestilence would continue to cause deaths despite getting vaccine jabs intended to counter COVID-19 and its variant mutations. The IATF now dangles anti-COVID vaccination cards in lieu of swab tests as travel pass to cross borders around the country for tours and trips.

While this may end fakers and forgers of required swab tests, the vaccination cards might become yet another source of illegal business.

But travel for vaccinated people is still at their own risks. The IATF should have been more prudent in its travel advisory.

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