Thou shalt not COVID thy neighbor’s life

After more than a year of rolling out experimental drugs for emergency use to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the jury’s still out as to which vaccine brands are effective against the current Delta variant. Some of those who’ve been fully jabbed are still getting infected and infecting others. Now there’s talk of a third shot and, possibly, annual injections. Our uncertain and unpredictable situation is fueling anxieties and social resistance to getting vaccinated now for added protection.

Our policymakers are dealing with a populace that’s still shaken by the Dengvaxia controversy. From having a high rate of confidence in vaccines, the subsequent controversy surrounding its hurried roll-out in the Philippines; the deaths associated with it; Sanofi’s findings that it caused an increased risk of severe dengue for initially seronegative patients; the politicized manner in which it was handled, and innuendos of malfeasance and misfeasance, caused public confidence in vaccines to plummet.

What were the consequences? The anti-dengue vaccination program was suspended. Anti-measles vaccinations dropped drastically. Measles cases spiked 2,000% between 2017-2019. The fallout extends to anti-COVID vaccines. Based on Pulse Asia’s June 2021 survey, 36% said they’re not inclined while 16% were unsure. SWS’s survey a month earlier revealed that 33% were unwilling to get vaccinated while 35% were uncertain. Those unwilling are a firm one third of the population. The silver lining is the “uncertain” segment which appears to be diminishing.

That resistance is attributable to a combination of factors:

• painful experience (morbidity, mortality) of the vaccinated without satisfactory answers;

• misinformation and faulty information permeating in various media;

• why is big pharma legally risk-free while users bear the risk without redress;

• vaccines are still experimental in nature raising safety concerns;

• distrust of the Department of Health (DoH) given its long history of inefficiency and corruption;

• unpredictability due to evolving/clashing positions of scientists and doctors.

Their unshakable beliefs, deep-seated fears, and suspicions prevent them from objectively processing empirical data on the efficacy of rolled-out vaccines.

Topping that attitudinal headache, is the view that public health is intertwined with our brand of politics that’s terminally corrupted, prompting critics to say sarcastically that, indeed, “Health is wealth.” Terminal, because it has grown through decades of perceived protection for self-gain. The stench of corruption in supplier selection, procurement, inventory management, and “unspent” funds is beyond whiff. Yet, instead of causing the investigation of the allegations by the Ombudsman in fidelity to one’s oath of office, none of the sort has taken place.

Without decades of malfeasance and misfeasance, we could have today a robust infrastructure and affordable healthcare system for all citizens; well-trained, well-equipped, and well-paid frontliners; ample supply of medical supplies and medicines that are well managed to ensure quality and timely use before expiration; and a professional cadre in the bureaucracy providing honest and efficient public service. That’s what taxpayers have been demanding all this time — a government that performs its mandate and delivers results.

The lack of integrity and credibility in the government, regardless of which administration is in position, has seriously eroded the public’s trust and confidence. Public hesitancy and resistance to vaccination and disregard for safety protocols are oblique forms of expressed dissatisfaction. When trust is regained through smart, firm, and fair governance like in the case of Singapore, the people will respond promptly to the call for collective action. However, the more we fail to fix ourselves, the better it is for the virus.

The stark reality is that we’re at war. The deadly Delta variant is reportedly infecting ALL AGE BRACKETS. It’s in control. It’s infecting at will anyone who is vulnerable, careless or mindless. Previously, it was only seniors and the infirmed. Now, it’s everyone including our very young whose lives are at stake. If we don’t make the right choices and act as one united cohesive nation against the pandemic, economic collapse, human-induced climate change, and catastrophic armed conflicts, we better say goodbye to any notion of a better future.

Vaccinating 100 million in-country (assuming the rest of us are overseas) equates to 200 million doses, possibly 300 million if a third jab is needed. The government has acquired to-date, through donations and purchases, around 70 million doses to fully vaccinate 35 million citizens. It aims to fully vaccinate 50 million by end-2021. That’s a good target equivalent to 100 million doses. In spite of the competitive environment to obtain scarce vaccine supply, IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) has managed to secure a significant amount that deserves our applause.

It would be a fitting legacy for the outgoing administration to aim for at least 80 million fully vaccinated citizens by the time it exits in June 2022. Health diplomacy will play a big role in obtaining precious supply from the World Health Organization and producer countries. The private sector’s partnership to manufacture vaccines under license, procure, distribute, and get them into people’s arms will be crucial. Most important is good governance for a “whole-of-nation” approach to protect society and defeat COVID.

Getting at least 80% vaccinated by next June is tight but doable if done right. Admittedly, it’s no silver bullet. The vaccinated could still get infected and infect others. The data shows, however, that infections are mild except for those with co-morbidities who might suffer to the same degree as the unvaccinated. Vaccination + face masks + distancing + hygiene + boosting immune systems is the gold standard. Be conservative. Err on the side of caution to save lives — ours and those around us.

This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP.

Rafael “Raffy” M. Alunan III is a member of the MAP, Chair of Philippine Council for Foreign Relations, Vice-Chair of Pepsi-Cola Products Philippines, Inc. and sits on the boards of other companies as Independent Director.


Rafael “Raffy” M. Alunan III is a member of the MAP, Chair of Philippine Council for Foreign Relations, Vice-Chair of Pepsi-Cola Products Philippines, Inc. and sits on the boards of other companies as Independent Director.

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