Editorial: Not among the 1%

A few days before Good Friday, barangay workers went around the neighborhood to ask senior citizens if they were willing to receive a vaccine against Covid-19. The joy I felt from this development overstates the event’s importance. I shall keep it anyway.

The workers were careful not to create any false expectations or hopes. No, they could not say when a vaccine might be given to the community’s seniors. They could not say what brands would be delivered. But the mere possibility that a vaccine might be available—even if no one could say how soon—was enough. The optimism and joy lasted well past Easter. I even considered buying a planner for the first time since 2020 began.

What happened was probably Step 2 of a nine-step implementation process that the Department of Health (DOH) outlined as part of its national vaccination plan. Local governments had been given until March 31 to complete master lists of the first two priority groups, which include frontline health workers, contact tracers, senior citizens and enlisted personnel. All that data would then go into an electronic immunization registry.

As of last Tuesday, April 6, a total of 922,898 persons in the Philippines have received at least one dose of a vaccine against the virus that causes Covid-19. They represent less than one percent of the national population. Fewer than 51,000 have received two doses or been fully vaccinated.

Yet in some better-prepared local governments, the vaccines have started to reach Priority B citizens. This group includes government personnel, school workers, overseas Filipino workers, essential workers (as defined by the labor and trade departments), and groups at higher risk than others, such as “all Filipinos living in high-density areas.” Local government officials get to identify that last group, depending on the city or town’s land use plan.

Local governments have also been asked to take the lead in the vaccination program, subject to DOH guidelines. It won’t be overstating the case to say that the quality of local government leadership really has become a matter of life and death. Where you live will, among other factors, determine how soon you can get some necessary protection against Covid-19.

When the DOH released the vaccination plan, it cited data from January 2021. Based on its guidelines, the number of active cases and the attack rate for every 100,000 persons in the last four weeks would help decide to which regions the available vaccines would be sent. In January, Metro Manila was first on the list. It probably still is, given the number of cases there.

Central Visayas landed fourth on that list, although the order may change based on what a monthly review reveals. As of last Friday, the total number of cases in Region 7 amounted to less than 15 percent of the number of those the pandemic has struck in Metro Manila.

While waiting for more data about the vaccine rollout to become available, what some of us do instead is check the numbers nearly every day. I know this is probably an unhealthy preoccupation.

How many tested positive nationwide today? (Answer: 12,225 last Friday.) Is the seven-day average of new cases in your region rising or falling? (Answer: In Central Visayas, it’s been falling since March 10, when the seven-day average was 499, although that shouldn’t mean we can let our guard down.) How many beds reserved for Covid-19 patients (ward, isolation and ICU) remain vacant? The health department’s tracker gives you these numbers at the hospital level. This one actually helps, in that it lets me rein in the anxiety triggered by social media posts about how some hospitals have been overwhelmed.

The number I’m most eager to get is a date. As soon as my mother gets inoculated—and that day cannot come soon enough—it will be a turning point in this entire experience. Think about the person you love most. You’d probably feel the same way.


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