We cannot afford COVID-19 vaccine delays

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

Results of the recent Pulse Asia survey revealed that nearly half (47 percent) of Filipinos are hesitant toward COVID-19 inoculation, citing safety as the main reason why they are not willing to get vaccinated. Even frontline health workers, who have been identified as priority recipients of COVID-19 vaccines, have ventilated their concerns regarding the safety and efficacy of such vaccines. They want government to ensure that they will receive the best vaccine option, and not settle for one that is riddled with issues and yet is more expensive. Having felt neglected all this time, their trust in government has been tarnished, especially with the news that some groups have managed to receive vaccines ahead of them, bypassing those who have been identified as most at-risk citizens.

Partisan politics and the lack of transparency on the part of government end up damaging the public’s trust and confidence in any vaccination drive. The government should act swiftly to address such concerns, given that a tremendous investment of P82.5 billion has been allocated for the procurement and roll-out of the vaccines to inoculate around 50-70 million Filipinos for the current year.

The Philippines is already behind in the global race to acquire COVID-19 vaccines. While other countries had started their vaccination campaigns as early as December last year, the Duterte administration expects the first batch of vaccines to arrive only by next month.

According to National Action Plan Against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr., the country is negotiating for only the remaining 18 percent of global vaccine supply, as 80 percent of the doses have been secured by rich countries. Fortunately, the COVAX facility, an international platform that aims to ensure rapid, fair, and equitable access to vaccines, has guaranteed coverage for 20 percent of the Philippines’ population.

Based on data collected by Bloomberg, more than 30 million doses have been administered in 43 countries as of the second week of January. The pack is led by Israel, which registered a vaccination rate of 21 per 100 people, and has started to administer booster shots (or the second dose) to its citizens. Other countries that have administered the most doses are the United States, China, and the United Kingdom.

It is critical that our government expeditiously execute a transparent and fully integrated vaccine deployment and immunization program for all Filipinos. The government should also support the aggressive initiatives of local government units that have allocated funds to secure additional vaccines for their constituents, and the private sector that will facilitate the roll-out of the vaccines.

The private sector, which has provided early and sustained support in testing, tracing, and treating COVID-19 patients, has also offered to help in the vaccination campaign by providing additional funds and logistics to complement government efforts. The government must closely work and coordinate with the private sector to ensure that the deployment of the vaccines will be swift, and those who must be prioritized will not be supplanted by favored individuals and groups jumping the line.

The huge resources committed by the private sector are much welcome, and will greatly lighten the fiscal burden of the government. Achieving herd immunity will depend on a well-coordinated and collaborative partnership between national government agencies, local government units, and the private sector, to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccine is made accessible to every Filipino at the shortest timeline, and with utmost transparency.

We cannot afford, and should not allow, any unnecessary regulatory or bureaucratic barriers, as well as baseless anti-vaccine scares, to cause any delay in this program. Until we are all safely vaccinated, each interaction is a risk, each day will see more deaths, and the economy will remain severely handicapped.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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