Choosy vaxxy

LOOKING ASKANCE - Atty. Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - May 23, 2021 - 12:00am

The current debate among our politicians is whether to announce what brand of vaccine is being administered for the day. Apparently, certain brands have greater cachet among the unvaccinated, and when the brand of choice is announced, a mad scramble occurs. Picky people show up, hoping to be injected with their preferred brand. That’s what happened in Parañaque. When Pfizer was offered, a swarm descended upon the vaccination center.

So, the quick fix is to tell the cities not to announce the particular brand upfront. That would forestall choosy citizens from lying in wait for their desired brand, and avoid the jam-packing of vaccination centers.

However, a couple of mayors bristle at this injunction. For Mayor Isko Moreno of Manila, “it’s their right to choose the vaccine that will be injected to them...it’s your body, it’s your right to take care of it and choose what vaccine will be injected to you depending on the availability of the vaccines”.

Mayor Toby Tiangco of Navotas, in turn, thinks the unvaccinated “have greater confidence if they are allowed to choose, and we can encourage more people to get jabs”. As a natural consequence of these positions, both these mayors want to overturn the decision not to divulge the brand of the day.

Frankly, I’m not sure allowing our citizens this much flexibility is helpful from a public health perspective. The focus should be in jabbing the unprotected as quick as we can. Given the tens of millions of citizens left to still vaccinate, and the millions of vaccines that may go to waste if they aren’t quickly deployed, getting a vaccination shouldn’t be turned into a leisurely shopping expedition.

Factor in as well the fact that the pace of our vaccination hasn’t been ideal, what’s with the daily average only coming out to about 83,240 doses a day (I refer you to the Reuters vaccination tracker, which reports only a bit more than 3 million doses administered thus far). At this rate, Reuters calculates that it will take 260 days just to complete 10% of our total population.

What this statistic means to my simplistic mind is, it will take seven years before we fully dose the country. And not to be facetious about it, but after the first year, all of those who got their vaccines will probably need booster shots all over again. In which case, how the heck will we ever finish injecting ourselves with this vaccine? Do we really want to finish this arduous task? Or do we want to prolong it so that the choosy can take their time before protecting not just themselves, but also everybody else around them?

That seems to be the point missed by the mayors. It isn’t just about protecting the individual. Or his or her body. It isn’t just a personal choice for one person. It’s also about protecting the rest of society. That is why, for other diseases like measles and polio, other countries have mandated vaccines. And, to back up that requirement, there are stiff penalties attached to refusing to be vaccinated.

A study by McGill University points to 105 out of 193 countries that have imposed vaccinations for this and that disease, and also some form of penalty to refusing to comply. And these penalties include fines, jail time, being refused admission to school for unvaccinated children, or even losing parental rights.

The only thing that’s staying the hand of certain countries from applying this rule to COVID-vaccines is probably the fact that the current options have had only a short proof-of-concept life. But once these vaccines prove their safety longevity, we may all end up considering the issue of mandating COVID-vaccines. And if we do - we will be in big trouble. We are so not prepared to mandate the administration of COVID-vaccines to a hundred million Filipinos.

Meanwhile, let’s not dither about deploying those jabs. This isn’t a restaurant setting where one can come in and order dessert according to taste. The customer isn’t, in fact, a customer. The vaccine is free - in which case the adage “beggars can’t be choosers” comes to mind.

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