Vaccination rush

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

The latest Omicron-driven COVID surge, it seems, has fueled a vaccination rush.

Last Friday night, the waiting line at the drive-through vaccination site at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park snaked northward along Roxas Boulevard from T.M. Kalaw street all the way to the Anda Circle in Port Area – a distance of 1.4 kilometers – where the line made a U-turn to Bonifacio Drive before turning right toward the grandstand.

Vehicles coming from the direction of city hall had to turn left from P. Burgos to Roxas Boulevard and make a U-turn, either at T.M. Kalaw or at the break in front of the Rizal Monument to join the waiting line.

Manila Mayor Isko Moreno had opened the drive-through 24/7 for booster shots for both city residents and non-residents. All vaccine brands are available and up to five persons per four-wheel-drive vehicle are accommodated.

Since the boosters are on a first-come first-served basis, the lines of vehicles have been there around the clock. I’ve seen drivers asleep at the wheel late at night while waiting along with their passengers.

I got my booster in a strip mall on Dec. 27 after getting a text alert from our local government unit. The LGU health personnel allowed my mother and our household staff to walk in for their boosters. I was worried about Omicron, and their six months from the second dose would have lapsed on Jan. 15. Our wait at the strip mall, from arrival to exit, lasted only about an hour.

With vaccines poured into the National Capital Region, I believe there is a similar orderly alert system in place for the booster program across the NCR. So it’s intriguing to see those long lines at the Rizal Park drive-through as well as the large crowds for primary shots and boosters at many vaccination sites in Metro Manila.

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I’ve been told that there were people who put off getting their boosters because they wanted to fully enjoy the holidays; alcohol consumption is prohibited within a certain period before and after the booster.

Perhaps the latest Omicron-driven COVID surge (with actual numbers widely believed to be underreported) is fueling the rush for boosters. AstraZeneca has issued a statement that its vaccine used as booster has been found in a study (still to be peer-reviewed) to be effective against Omicron.

But why those long lines even in the dead of night at the Rizal Park drive-through? Were they from places outside the NCR with low vaccine supplies?

Or do people prefer drive-throughs, where they and members of their household bubble are safely distanced from strangers?

Marketing experts have stressed the importance of convenience, of “going to your market” or “taking the vaccine to the patients” in overcoming vaccine hesitancy.

LGUs should consider this in their efforts to ramp up vaccination. More drive-throughs can be set up, but unlike in Manila, there should be separate lanes for jabs booked online to minimize the hassle.

Some LGUs are literally taking the vaccine to the patients, going house to house not only for the vaccine-hesitant, but also for the elderly and infirm in remote communities with no means to troop to crowded vaccination sites at town centers.

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As in other parts of the world, some groups have expressed concern over the measures being employed to get all eligible persons in our country vaccinated.

Short of imposing an outright vaccination mandate, the government has rolled out several disincentives for the unvaxxed, to protect them since they have the highest risk of catching the virus and developing a serious infection, and also to protect those who have taken pains to get their jabs.

Unvaccinated workers who insist on working onsite must present a negative RT-PCR test result every two weeks, at their own expense. Vaccination cards are now required in many shopping mall food courts and other commercial establishments.

The latest disincentives are the confinement of the unvaccinated to their homes, except to access essential goods and services such as food and medical care (although doing so can be a hurdle in the absence of vaccination cards).

Beginning today, the unvaccinated can no longer ride nearly all forms of public transportation except tricycles (though their LGU may include these in the ban) within, to and from the NCR.

Those who are unvaxxed because of a health condition are exempted but must present a medical certificate. Anti-vaxxers who invoke religious beliefs are likely to have a tough time getting exemptions.

The Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines has said LGUs intend to implement the “no vax, no ride” policy outside the NCR.

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Dr. Nina Gloriani, who chairs the country’s Vaccine Expert Panel, explained to “The Chiefs” on One News last week that the government has followed a calibrated protocol in trying to get people vaccinated against COVID.

Citing Dr. Beverly Lorraine Ho, director of the Health Promotion Bureau of the Department of Health, Gloriani said there are five stages in the vaccination effort in this unprecedented pandemic: persuasion, nudging and incentivizing (such as through discounts and raffles), followed by disincentives such as the testing requirement for onsite work for the unvaccinated. The final stage is mandatory vaccination. Strictly speaking, the “no vax, no ride” policy is not yet a vaccine mandate.

Gloriani, who is a microbial immunologist, warns that a virus tends to mutate more when there are a lot of people unvaccinated against it. Scientists are hoping that with high vaccination rates, Omicron will be the last of the COVID variants of concern before the coronavirus becomes endemic.

At the start of the pandemic in 2020, behavioral and social scientists advising the British government had outlined ways of getting people to observe social distancing to reduce COVID transmission in the UK. Drawn from the Behavior Change Wheel, the nine interventions are education, persuasion, incentivization, coercion, training, restriction, environmental restructuring, modeling and enablement.

Based on a study, the scientists noted that the greatest behavioral impact was achieved when the interventions were done “at many levels simultaneously and consistently.”

This is what the government is doing. There are some potential glitches in today’s rollout of the “no vax, no ride” policy. Among them: drivers are not trained to detect fake vaccination cards. Will “mystery passengers” catch the fake card holders?

With Omicron raging and infections reaching new record highs every day, however, most people are willing to give any virus containment measure a try, so that we can get our life back.


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