Best to the Philippines on their Vaccination Efforts

Photo by Inoue Jaena/Rappler

This week the CDC gave perhaps the most encouraging news since the outbreak of COVID-19. It issued a new guideline that two weeks after someone receives a second dose of either Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccine or the single-dose vaccine of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen – the fully vaccinated person can essentially resume all pre-pandemic activities.

This means wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart will no longer be necessary. The fully vaccinated person can attend gathering of all sizes both indoors and outdoors. Of course, businesses and government will still set their own requirements of mask use or other precautions that still must be abided.

The reasoning for maintaining COVID-19 safety rules is twofold: 1) an establishment doesn’t know who is or isn’t vaccinated without requiring a vaccination card showing proof (something that would be perceived as too intrusive on civil liberties); and 2) full vaccination does not mean 100% immunity. There are also question marks as to how effective existing vaccinations are against variants or how long vaccines can protect people.

It will take a little longer for the ultimate goal of reaching herd immunity, that would require more people in the general population getting vaccinated. But the US is not too far off. Already as of mid-May 60% of adults have received at least one-dose of the two-part vaccination.

It looks like just a matter of time that the US will hit that mark of herd immunity given the remarkable efforts the Biden Administration has made in making vaccines so readily available and for free. It has been an amazing tactical achievement to get both public and the private sectors clicking with such efficiency.

The herd immunity threshold is when between 70-90% of the population is immune to COVID-19 and variants.

The Philippines starts vaccinations
The high bar the Biden administration set in the roll out of vaccinations (compared to the dismal ineptness of the previous administration in handling COVID-19) is a model from which the Philippines and the rest of the world can look to replicate.

Because the Philippines just started this month with vaccinations, it only has less than 2% of its population inoculated. Health officials say the late start to administering the vaccine is due to inventory. Officials wanted to ensure a sizeable amount of vaccines were stockpiled before making it available to the masses; and much of the vaccines have just been arriving this May through COVAX, an international partnership established to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines around the world. The US is part of this WHO-led COVAX initiative and has already pledged to donate initially about 60 million doses.

What the Philippines must do
Philippine government officials will need to lobby hard to get their fair share of vaccines through COVAX. All financially challenged countries will be scrambling and expressing their unique (and not-so unique) emergencies.

The Philippines has already made smart negotiations to enlist the help from China and Russia for donated vaccination supplies. It will need all the help it can get, including mending its relations with the US to get extra assistance from the US outside of COVAX.

The Philippines must also be monitoring closely the possible lifting of patent protection on COVID-19 vaccines that would enable governments with their private sector to ramp up vaccine production of their own. The Biden administration already said it is in support of this, even though drug companies have resisted lifting patents. But if the US government is behind it, some kind of temporary lifting is possible; and the Philippine government should be making preparations for such a scenario, including setting aside adequate funding.

A major component of the US’s success in vaccinating has been getting the private sector to be a part of it. Philippine residents are already telling their government officials that private employers should be involved. In addition to employers, the Philippine government must get the help of private pharmacies, those independently owned and pharmacies owned by giant grocery and retail giants to administer shots. The convenience of having vaccination shots available at places that people already go to regularly increases the chances for the general public to get inoculated.

Convenience and availability are keys to success. And, of course, the third part is all vaccines must be free for everyone. Since a vast majority of vaccines are donated in the case of the Philippines, there is no reason fees should be passed on to the people.

In the US, government has also spent millions on advertising and public awareness campaigns to convince people to get vaccinated. It’s unlikely that the Philippines will need to resort to this as demand will most likely be greater than supply.

While vaccination is being worked on, leaders must do all they can to contain the spread and calibrate into public health precautions ways to maintain economic vitality. The economic stats on growth and unemployment show the country has taken major hits.

While there has been copious complaints from Filipinos over how inadequate their government has been handling the pandemic, just based off the fairly low numbers of infected and deaths (relative to other countries), these data (if accurate) suggest there are areas of proficient management. But the fairly low numbers could also be attributed to the Filipino people themselves (not necessarily government action) in slowing the spread of the virus by practicing safety precautions. Low infections and deaths also do not take into account other issues like poverty and hunger without adequate government assistance that Filipinos rightfully and with validity have been expressing frustration over.

There are talks of and a desire for Hawaii’s Filipino community to vacation in the Philippines. But the Philippine government is currently restricting travel in and out to only a select group of people. This, again, is a smart move. Until vaccination is ramped up considerably, it’s in everyone’s best interest to defer travel.

We hope for the best for all our fellow Filipinos. We applaud all efforts that have eased the hardship the pandemic has caused, and support your journey toward herd immunity. May it come speedily.

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