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Opinion

Incentivize, don’t penalize

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

When I had my first dose of the vaccine against COVID-19 last May, the process was smooth and hassle-free. It took less than 20 minutes from filling out the forms to getting the actual jab. If not for the post-vaccination observation time of 30 minutes, one would be out of the vaccination center in less than 30 minutes.

Last Tuesday, when I had my second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the process was still orderly and smooth, but noticeably there were now more people at the UC Banilad Senior High School building compared to my first dose experience last summer.

Kudos to the health workers in the center who did a good job in managing the process. The venue was also a good pick, especially with its spacious and well-ventilated waiting areas, fresh air moving through the building and bouncing off its walls.

However, this cannot be said of other vaccination centers across Metro Cebu. Reports show a throng of people lining up for vaccination. It was obvious in the photos that people did not observe physical distancing.

It’s easy to blame the crowd in these situations. But crowd control management has a lot to do with preparing for likely and unexpected scenarios, as well as knowing the attitude of the crowd. It means designing an efficient queue flow system using not just physical posts and barriers but also strong wayfinding techniques. Are the signages clear and easily spotted, with markers to guide the flow of people?

* * *

I was one of those who immediately registered to get a jab last summer as soon as it was made available for my category. I knew that the vaccine hesitancy that was prevalent back then will not last long because of the threat of more contagious and dangerous variants. The crowd will sooner or later come, and it did come. Unfortunately, our vaccination supply is still lacking.

That is why it is quite hypocritical for government to threaten to punish unvaccinated people when it cannot yet even provide a steady and sufficient supply of vaccine doses for the entire target population.

Instead of punishing unvaccinated people, we should be incentivizing COVID-19 vaccinations; offer freebies and privileges to fully-vaccinated people. Studies have suggested that rewards may be more effective than punishments.

Besides, it is unfair to twist people’s arms when they may want to get vaccinated but could not yet be accommodated in our vaccination centers. A bit of arm-twisting may be acceptable, but only when we can already ensure a steady supply for every person who wants to get the jab.

We could require unvaccinated people to present a recent negative COVID-19 test before allowing them entry to any sports, cultural, and arts activities. In Saudi Arabia, the government is banning unvaccinated people from entering its shopping malls starting next month. Giant tech companies like Google, Yahoo, and Netflix are requiring all employees who are returning to work in their offices this October to be fully vaccinated.

But let’s do these, among other forceful measures, only if we have enough vaccine supply to serve the entire target population. At the moment, we have not yet earned the right put our foot down against vaccine hesitancy.

My friend, Regina, a former journalist, lined up last Wednesday to get her vaccine jab. It was her second time to line up this month; the first time in a mall, she along with many others were turned away because of lack of supply. This time she already went through the stages of filling out the forms and going through health checks. There were around 50 of them in the holding area just past noon that day when suddenly there was an announcement that the center had run out of vaccines.

On the other hand, let me also share the tragic story of a friend who lost his senior mother to COVID-19 a week ago. He told us in a group chat that his entire household experienced flu-like symptoms early this month. The symptoms were mild and brief in duration except for that of his mother who was hospitalized and later found to be positive for COVID. She died 18 days later. All of them in the house were vaccinated except for his mother. The culprit, he said, was the AM radio commentator who kept on peddling unfounded stories against the coronavirus vaccine. His mother listened to those lies and refused to be vaccinated.

COVID-19 VACCINE
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