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Opinion

Whimsical

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

With millions of Filipinos now getting at least one dose of COVID vaccine particularly in Metro Manila, try comparing vaccination cards.

You will quickly realize that there is no standardized, uniform card; each local government unit (LGU) and even each hospital with an accredited COVID inoculation site has its own vaccination card.

All probably carry the required basic information about the vaccinee, plus the date, time and place for the administration of the two doses, with signatures of those who gave the jabs.

But the cards vary in size and font types. And they can be so easily faked. There is not a single security feature that can protect these valuable documents from being forged. And there is no central database where their authenticity can be quickly verified by authorities.

This is now a problem after the government approved the use of the cards by fully vaccinated individuals for interzonal travel in lieu of the costly reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction or RT-PCR test.

Considering the cost of the RT-PCR swab or saliva tests (from P2,000 to over P10,000), the move makes sense – if we didn’t have worms in this country who fake test results, sell vaccination slots and now, even the vaccines themselves (which might be fake).

If lowlifes can fake RT-PCR test results so they can swim in Boracay or travel by plane, why wouldn’t they fake vaccination cards? They can also sell counterfeit cards to anti-vaxxers who want to travel.

*      *      *

The coronavirus and its deadlier and more transmissible variants love travel; they need to keep finding new hosts. Open borders turned COVID-19 into a global health crisis. When treatments and vaccines against the coronavirus are developed, it mutates.

Mutants are being blamed for the ongoing COVID surge in several areas outside the National Capital Region, including President Duterte’s home turf, Davao City. Experts have warned that the NCR can always see a return of the surge. Dr. Anna Ong Lim, a member of the Department of Health’s Technical Advisory Group on COVID, calls the current overall infection slowdown nationwide a “lull.”

The OCTA Research Group, which has noted a slowdown in COVID transmission nationwide in recent days, has posed no objections to reviving more economic activities. But the group wants one thing retained: border controls.

Those controls can be compromised by the use of fake vaccination cards in lieu of RT-PCR tests for interzonal travel, as approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

This IATF move is starting to look like the decision to require all local government units and commercial establishments to use the StaySafe.PH app for contact tracing – without first ensuring if the app can provide reliable and verifiable information.

The app has been so useless that its QR codes serve mainly as decoration at entrances. Most commercial establishments that initially required all customers to use the QR code before entry have given up and simply subject everyone to temperature scanning. Even the manual contact tracing forms, while still available, are often ignored by guards and customers alike, since there is no way of verifying the information written down anyway.

*      *      *

This time, allowing the vaccination cards to be used in lieu of RT-PCR testing for interzonal travel will remove one critical layer of virus transmission prevention.

You wonder how decisions are reached and policies crafted in this administration. It must be as whimsical as that statement from President Duterte (subsequently retracted) that there was no more need for face shields.

Before any program or policy is implemented, there is supposed to be extensive brainstorming. But officials can’t even get their act together on prohibiting walk-ins for vaccination.

Walk-ins are OK if the country has such a glut of vaccines it is already giving away the excess, and even offering free jabs for foreign tourists.

If anyone can get a free Pfizer, Moderna or J&J shot in the neighborhood pharmacy, allowing walk-ins makes sense. But if people have to wait in line for 11 hours beginning at 2 a.m. just to get vaccinated because the supply is extremely limited, then you need systematic scheduling, to reduce public misery. As of yesterday, the lack of vaccines had forced more NCR cities plus Cebu City to suspend their first-dose inoculation.

*      *      *

Then there’s the issue of people not showing up for their second COVID shots. Officials must consider the possibility that perhaps people are unaware that they need a second dose, or don’t know the schedule for their second shot. The date is written in the vaccination card issued after the first dose, but how many people know this? I’m sure there are many who missed their second dose because they received alerts on their phones for the first shot, and were expecting a similar alert for the second one.

I got my phone alert for the second dose five hours after I received the shot. I got the jab on time because a driver – not the people at the vaccination site – had told me shortly after my first dose that the date for the second jab was indicated in the vaccination card.

Even in non-pandemic matters, the best intentions can get lost in the implementation. Registration for the national ID, for example, is supposed to be free. This is meant to ensure universal coverage, with indigents and residents of remote areas included. But registration requires the person’s blood type.

I know women who at past 40 and after several childbirths still don’t know their blood type, since all their babies were delivered at their home with assistance only from midwives. There are millions of indigents who now need to get tested for their blood type to get their national ID. The cost of such a blood test in a mid-priced private laboratory as of yesterday was P200.

Those who are deterred by the cost (and the bother of getting a blood test) will either skip registration or else lie about their blood type. Lying may defeat the purpose of the requirement, which is the efficient delivery of certain health services.

Yesterday Malacañang said it is ready to listen to certain LGUs’ concern regarding the use of the vaccination cards in lieu of RT-PCR testing for interzonal travel.

The process should have been reversed: consult the LGUs first, since they are affected by the policy, before imposing it. Such poor coordination must not be a hallmark of the pandemic response.

COVID-19 VACCINE
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