As of this writing, the Department of Health reported that it has administered over 48 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Over 22 million Filipinos have been fully inoculated, either by receiving the second of a two-dose vaccine, or a one-dose vaccine. It’s roughly 20% of the country’s population.
Is it too slow?
Considering the government’s initial target of vaccinating 70% of the country by the end of this year, it is. The numbers certainly have increased in the past few months, as more doses arrive in the country, and vaccination is opened to non-priority groups. But in an admission that the initial target was too optimistic considering the circumstances, they have revised their goal: fully vaccinate 70% of the population by this summer, just in time for the presidential elections.
We have to pick up the pace of vaccinations. All over the world vaccination rates are becoming the basis for how much an economy can reopen. Take Australia. Some states there have defined a clear roadmap out of their lockdowns, which have been pretty long, too. New South Wales—where Sydney is—will take its first steps out of lockdown today, as it passed its target of 70% of its population getting both jabs. Restrictions will further ease, particularly for those who are fully vaccinated, once 80% of the population gets both jabs. The state’s target is to “fully” reopen by December.
Vaccination is, of course, not perfect. You can have both jabs and still get infected. (My folks are fully vaccinated but three members have since been infected. Mild cases, for the most part. It could be worse.) But it goes a long way to relieving the strain on our health care system, ensuring that beds and personnel are available both for positive COVID-19 cases and for everyone else who may need medical attention for other reasons. (I’m long due for a check-up with my cardiologist, but that’s been put on hold because of the surge.) It also allows for a more confident reopening of the economy, as we inch closer to herd immunity and make the disease more manageable.
Instead, we’re dragging our feet when it comes to distribution of the vaccines. We have 78 million doses at hand, enough to fully vaccinate roughly 39 million more Filipinos. If we can sort out the distribution and make it easier for folks to get jabbed, we can make leaps and bounds in reaching our 70% vaccination rate target. Instead, we tweak existing lockdown regulations to allow for more sectors to reopen, but without providing Filipinos the confidence to really go out there and resume their lives. (As I write this, there’s talk of whether cinemas can be allowed to open again. But who’s in a rush to watch No Time to Die in this climate?)
The frustrating thing about this is that we have most of the components at hand. We have knowledge of how other countries that have made strides in getting past the worst of the pandemic dealt with their own cases. We have a wide portfolio of vaccines available, unlike in the early days of the inoculation drive, when people were hesitant to get jabbed because almost everyone got Sinovac. We have supply chain facilities and personnel willing to get involved in the effort—and why not? The sooner the economy reopens, the more business the logistics services sector can make.
And yet we can’t seem to get our act together. Reuters estimates that it will take roughly two months from now before we can inoculate 30% of our population. That’s too slow. There’s still no clear roadmap out of the pandemic, no plan on how we can transition from “firefighting” mode to “ongoing management”. We’re just going around in circles.
As we’ve seen in many countries around the world, it is imperative that we vaccinate the majority of Filipinos as soon as possible so we can better manage this pandemic. This is not a task for whoever takes over as president next year. We have to get on it now.
Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications director of SCMAP, and editor-in-chief of its official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.