Thursday, June 24, 2021

Editorial: Ways of looking

Editorial Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan

A million doses of Sinovac vaccine arrived this week, adding to the count of 10,329,050 doses that the Philippines received as of June 10, 2021. As of press time, a batch of 2,279,160 Pfizer-BioNTech doses was also arriving. The biggest single-day delivery, Presidential spokesperon Harry Roque Jr. claims.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. says the new deliveries are part of the 11,058,000 doses that are expected to arrive in June. He was expecting 5.5 million doses of Sinovac, one million of Sputnik V from Gamaleya in Russia, 250,000 from Moderna, 2.28 million of Pfizer-BioNTech and 2.028 million of AstraZeneca.

Countries have set a target of their population to achieve herd immunity at the end of 2021. For a population to muscle a resistance against an infectious disease, it has either to reach a certain number of survivors or vaccinated individuals.

Last month, the Philippine government lowered its target from 70 million to 50 million, with the Department of Health (DOH) saying that the objective now is to achieve “population immunity,” which Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said means reducing the number of deaths and hospitalized patients through vaccination. How that objective differs from “herd immunity” wasn’t explained. But Galvez was clear that the lowering of the targeted population was due to a supply shortage following the surge in India.

Meanwhile, government media, the Philippine News Agency (PNA), released a happy report on May 23, 2021 on the country’s vaccination status, citing a foreign press data that says that the Philippines had administered a total of 4,097,425 doses since its March 1 rollout. The country, the PNA report said, comes second to Indonesia, which had a total of 24,723,728 doses since its January rollout. Incidentally, “the country ranked 13th in Asia and 37th worldwide” in terms of accomplished jabs, the PNA reported.

The report has since then circulated, and widely especially on social media, creating the impression that the government’s vaccination program has been faring better than those in most other countries in Southeast Asia.

The report eventually gained its share of criticisms. Former government adviser in the Covid fight Dr. Tony Leachon on social media said vaccination performance must be gauged by how much percent of the targeted population has been inoculated. This suggestion sent fact-checkers in media to verify the numbers.

Going by Leachon’s suggestion, it appears that the Philippines in late May places ninth in the vaccination status. Using UN Population estimates, Singapore ranked first, having vaccinated 24.62 percent of its targeted population of 1,440,544. It was followed by Cambodia, which targeted only 10,000,000, at 14.47 percent.

Even while the Philippines decreased its target to 50 million to achieve what it calls “population immunity,” it only had vaccinated 1.9 percent of its target, although the country has one of the highest population targets, second to Indonesia, which aims to inoculate 181,554,465 people.

The better reportorial slant, unfortunately, doesn’t favor government. A rollout performance of only 1.9 percent shows how slow we are in this race, and can’t be won by a media spin.

The WHO says the pandemic has actually gotten worse even as the times appear on the contrary. A number of countries have been limping with new surges despite having vaccination programs that are way better than the Philippines’.


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