FOR two consecutive weeks, Muntinlupa City held virtual town hall meetings to drum up high participation in its forthcoming Covid vaccination program. Invited to the separate meetings with the theme "Bakunado, Protektado" were representatives of homeowners groups, religious groups, civic groups, Sangguniang Kabataan, the Gender Development Office and the City Administrator's Office.

During the first meeting held February 10, the resource speakers were Infection Prevention and Control for Committee Chair Charissa Borja-Tabora of Research Institute for Tropical Medicine and Jesusa Joyce Cirunay of the Food and Drug Administration. Ms. Borja-Tabora underscored the safety of vaccines, the process of clinical trials, and the role of vaccines in protecting individuals and communities. Ms. Cirunay discussed the FDA's Emergency Use Authorization and the stringent process and policies for the approval of vaccines.

During the second meeting held last Thursday, Dr. Jose Mari Castro of the Department of Health shared his insights on the nature of Covid-19, means of transmission and safeguards to protect oneself and the community.

A special feature of both town hall meetings was an AVP specially prepared by the Public Information Office, headed by Tez V. Navarro, explaining the need to have oneself vaccinated. The AVP also answered frequently asked questions regarding the safety of FDA-approved vaccines.

In a February 11 Covid survey involving 17,561 respondents from Muntinlupa's nine barangays, 4,484 respondents or 24 percent indicated they were not willing to be vaccinated. The most common reasons cited were fear of side effects, doubts about the efficiency rate of the vaccine and cost of vaccination, exacerbated obviously by conflicting information circulating in social media.

Dr. Teresa "Tet" Tuliao, Muntinlupa City CHO, is targeting 383,000 or 70 percent of the entire city population -- the minimum number for Muntinlupeños to be able to gain "herd immunity."

Dr. Tuliao said the city has identified 6,758 medical frontliners from barangay health centers, emergency responders, the Ospital ng Muntinlupa and six private hospitals, including Asian Hospital, who can inject the vaccines. They will be organized into 82 vaccinations teams and deployed in 35 vaccination posts. They have the capability of vaccinating 8,200 individuals per day.

Muntinlupa City will give priority to front-liners such as health workers and uniformed personnel. Next in line are indigent senior citizens, followed by other senior citizens.

Vaccination during Spanish times

At various periods during the Spanish era, the Philippines was hit by smallpox, bubonic plague, and cholera and it was interesting how the authorities dealt with them.

In the 1800s, smallpox infected most of the Spanish territories, in South America and the Philippines. According to historian Ambeth Ocampo, the then reigning Spanish monarch, Carlos IV, ordered a vaccination expedition to head for the territories in 1803. The group was headed by Francisco Javier de Balmis.

In the late 1700s, Spain already had a vaccine for smallpox and in fact Carlos IV had his immediate family inoculated. But the problem was how to transport the vaccine because of the long voyage involved. Balmis came up with the novel idea of using live carriers. From Spain to Mexico and from Mexico to Manila, Balmis used orphans working a relay system. During the voyage, Balmis transmitted the vaccine in sequence, from child to child, arm to arm, along the way to their destination.

To cut a long story short, Balmis and his boys eventually reached Manila in 1805. The Spanish Governor-General Rafael Aguilar immediately had his own children inoculated. This softened the initial resistance of Bishop Domingo Collantes, the Archbishop of Manila, who was not keen on vaccination. Eventually, Balmis inoculated 20,000 inhabitants in Manila and environs. Balmis' assistants later proceeded to Misamis and Zamboanga. From Manila, Balmis brought Filipino orphans to Macau and Canton for a similar inoculation exercise.

A bronze monument of Carlos IV, in front of the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros, and a historical marker at the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine commemorate the Balmis vaccination expedition.

Note: You may wish to share the foregoing article via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.