Let’s Address the Vaccine Backlog
The global vaccine supply may be short at the moment but this should not stop our authorities and the private sector from doubling their efforts to find solutions and address the problem.
Many advanced nations, especially the US, have cornered the initial batches of Covid-19 vaccine doses from available drug makers. They are far richer than the Philippines and other developing nations, and these wealthy nations can readily shell out the money to ease out competitors for the vaccine. This inequity is a global reality.
The big gap in supply and demand, however, will eventually narrow down as more people from the industrialized countries get their jabs. The supply lack will ease and the poorer nations will finally obtain their share of the vaccines. In the meantime, the Philippines should prepare a practical strategy on how to distribute the bulk of the vaccines when they arrive, and how to efficiently contain the virus when the global vaccine demand eases.
Achieving herd immunity, of course, is the primary goal. But getting to that objective requires hard work and a pragmatic approach. For instance, after inoculating our health workers and the elderly who are most vulnerable to the disease, who are the next in line? Do we prioritize our workers next? Should we concentrate the bulk of the available doses in Metro Manila and the bubble provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and Bulacan?
Prioritizing the workers of Metro Manila and Calabarzon, which combined account for about 60 percent of the gross domestic product, is logical. But let us defer the decision or plan of action to our health authorities and economic managers. The data and science, hopefully, will guide them on which option will be most effective in stemming the rising tide of infections.
Indonesia, the hardest hit in Southeast Asia with over 1.5 million cases last week, has allowed private companies to acquire vaccines under an inoculation program to achieve faster herd immunity and reopen the economy quicker. But the scheme created controversy and clashed with the health policy of the World Health Organization.
The world health body noted that the program ran counter to its call for equal access to vaccines globally due to a shortage in supply. Vulnerable groups, especially the poor and unemployed, could be at a disadvantage against workers who can afford the vaccines.
Indonesia’s program is not necessarily the template for our private-sector program. But our health authorities should look at the merits of inoculating the majority of our workers soon to save the Philippine economy. These workers are one of the most exposed sectors to a possible virus infection. Trade Union Congress of the Philippines President Raymond Mendoza correctly recognized that it is the workers who go to the streets, take public transportation, and troop to their respective factories, offices, malls and plantations. They can easily get infected and become super spreaders.
Besides, our private sector-led initiative is more inclusive than that of Indonesia. The Dose of Hope initiative, as a case in point, is purchasing 17 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine through tripartite agreements with the private sector and local governments. Half of the doses being bought by businesses will go to their employees while the other half would be donated to the government.
My Villar Group, through AllHome Corp., earlier signed a deal with AstraZeneca to buy Covid-19 vaccines for its employees and for donation to the public. The Villar Group has also signed an agreement with Moderna for an even bigger order. The assistance will also be given to the families of the employees.
The private sector has remained committed and is willing to do its share in purchasing and distributing available vaccines to workers and the rest of the population. It has just obtained the green light from President Duterte last week to import “at will,” and I believe it is just a matter of time before we can iron out a few kinks in this private sector initiative.
Distributing the vaccine the most efficient way is critical in quickly reopening the economy. We should be reminded that previous lockdowns that lasted for months have cost millions of jobs and left many households hungry. A prolonged lockdown would take away the jobs of many Filipinos and lead them to die from hunger and illnesses rather than from Covid-19.
We can’t let that happen again.