Hope glimmers

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    ‘Apart from putting down a reservation, government must now figure out exactly how and to whom the vaccines should be administered so we can hit the ground running once the vaccine is approved and made available.’

    LAST week came with good news: Pfizer and Moderna have announced the results of their ongoing COVID-19 vaccine trials, and both are reporting a very high success rate (94-95%.) There is a lot to be unpacked, of course, with discussions on how prepared the global vaccine supply chain is for distribution on a massive scale. While realists have pointed out that there are many issues that need to be solved to ensure that all countries get equitable access to any approved vaccine, we cannot deny that the good news has given many a glimmer of hope. As a friend put it: “We may not know exactly when next year, but it’s better than having no idea at all when this can come to an end.”

    It’s good to hear also that government has put down an advanced payment of sorts to ensure that the country will be in line to receive the vaccine. The work does not stop there, as government needs to figure out where to source the rest of the payments, which I understand is now a priority among some of our more astute lawmakers in terms of crafting the budget. At the very least, government should exert every effort to ensure that Filipinos without means will be able to access the vaccine at the soonest possible time, especially our health and essential workers who have sacrificed life and limb to care for our communities. The last thing we all want is to hear that VIPs (yes this means you, Koko Pimentel) flouting the rules and throwing out every conceivable elbow to get themselves to the head of the line. And if we do, please raise a ruckus everywhere possible, dear millennials and fillennials. If there’s anything we have all learned in the last eight months, is that the populace is just sick and tired of seeing politicians use their stature to one-up everybody else, from getting PCR tests to putting themselves above quarantine rules.

    If the surveys are any indication, 66% of the populace wants to get a vaccine against the virus. I’m not sure of the reasons of the rest, as it may have something to do with the confidence level in the developer of the vaccine (the Russian and China-made versions have been getting more play than most in Philippine media due to President Duterte’s stated fondness for either.) Apart from putting down a reservation, government must now figure out exactly how and to whom the vaccines should be administered so we can hit the ground running once the vaccine is approved and made available. Vice President Leni Robredo made a good suggestion: government should already move to identify those people (down to names and locations) who need to get the vaccine administered first (as mentioned, health care workers) so the process of doing so can already be drafted and finalized.

    As they say, everything in government is about logistics: Do the recipients go to a particular point to get the vaccine, or will the vaccines be brought to them? In either case, arrangements will have to be made to ensure that there is an orderly process from end to end, to forestall any possible chaos that may arise from people who will randomly show up even if their names aren’t on the list. Just think of any permit or document that you need to get from a government agency and you’ll know that managing lines isn’t exactly a strength of any government agency, save for the Department of Foreign Affairs or the PSA.

    Another matter that must be resolved before the vaccine even gets here is the availability of storage facilities. In the same way that we had to upgrade our testing capabilities when the pandemic hit, government will have to take a hard look at how we can safely store the vaccines once the shipments arrive, as improper storage can greatly affect the effectivity of these doses. Heaven forbid that we see vaccines going to waste because we did not adequately anticipate these points, which can be especially excruciating because of the short supply in the beginning. Every vaccine dose counts, so I hope that none is wasted by failure to adequately plan.

    That said, I truly hope that the recent commitment of heads of states about vaccine equality will become reality, and that vaccine nationalism does not take hold. In the meantime, we all have to hang in there a while longer to ensure that we all come out on the better side of this pandemic, and continue to do our share for each other.