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Opinion

No counter-pandemic plan in his last year as President

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Does he still not get it, or is he just diverting the issue, critics ask.

President Rody Duterte the other night growled at Filipinos not vaccinated for COVID-19 to stay home lest they spew the “vee-rus” all over. As if it’s their fault for still not being vaccinated since the government’s rollout last March. Duterte used to single out only anti-vaxxers. Now he fumes against all unvaccinated folk.

But the issue is why tens of millions are not yet immunized. It’s because injections are coming only in trickles. Too, if doses do arrive, the distribution, cold storage and administering are spotty. Duterte’s vaccine czar, retired general Carlito Galvez, has been regularly apologizing for the mess. Lawmakers, having rushed the funding last year, now are asking where the vaccines are. Local officials who prepared the logistics mutter among themselves about the same. Under emergency-use authorization, only the national government may procure the doses, even if paid for by private companies and local government units. The first deliveries came only in March, two-and-a-half months behind neighboring countries.

People do want to be inoculated. They need protection against infection, to safely go to work for food and other basics. That’s why, as shown on TV news last week, they even lined up at dawn in cold rain and stinky flood to get jabbed.

That scene didn’t escape the President’s attention. In fact, he mentioned it in his State of the Nation Address last Monday. Without naming names, he even blamed the local official, as if the latter had control over the heavy monsoon storm. In truth, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno had rushed over to the inundated gym to help remedy the situation. The floods partly were due to nature, like rising sea levels. Plus, national government folly, like failure to unclog sewers and dumping of artificial white sand on the city’s beachfront.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on the pandemic needs to report and explain the numbers to Duterte:

• Last Wednesday, July 28, five months since rollout, a mere 17.5 million doses had been administered. Only 6.31 million adults, or 5.8 percent of the population, had been fully vaccinated; 10.4 percent got the first of two jabs. Duterte’s SONA promise of tripling the pace will hang on more dose arrivals, prompt logistics and swift injecting. That’s to achieve only 50-percent population protection by Christmas, scaled down from the original 75-percent herd-immunity target.

• Vaccine hesitancy has been declining. In March, four in five adults said they would refuse injections. In June it dropped to three in five. Only one in five is known to be a staunch refusenik.

The IATF might learn from readings that the drop in vaccine hesitancy is global. And it’s not due to harsh treatment of skeptics. Banning the unvaccinated from restaurants, cinemas and churches violates civil rights in most countries. Conversely, vaccine accessibility boosts immunization rates.

The Economist analyzed in its latest issue the steep hesitancy declines in 20 countries. Three trends emerged. One, the deluge of deliveries of doses to locales speeded up long-awaited injecting. Two, that friends and neighbors suffered no adverse effects convinced the doubters to get jabs. Three, fear of death due to vicious variants overcame the fear of injection.

In his SONA, Duterte said he does not know what to do with the unexpected pandemic that marred his economic targets. He can only listen to advisers, he said, “so let’s just pray to God for salvation.”

“Is this the same God he frequently curses?” former health secretary Esperanza Cabral wondered why Duterte did not spell out any counter-pandemic policy for his last year in office.

Surveyed by Pulse Asia a month before the SONA, majority of respondents said they wanted the President to talk about jobs, economic recovery and controlling consumer price spikes. Those issues hinge on astute pandemic response, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto noted. Only then can there be a return to normal.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM). “Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” is available as e-book and paperback. Book orders accepted at Shopee: https://shopee.ph/GOTCHA-(Paperback)-by-Jarius-Bondoc-i.264837039.3870254862

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