POSTSCRIPT / August 5, 2021 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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‘Delta’ turns doubt into demand for vax

IT TOOK the super-contagious Delta variant to scare Filipinos out of their early hesitancy to get vaccinated against COVID-19, especially when the only serum being offered to them was the Sinovac made in China.

But the horror stories of the Delta variant surging to infect record numbers of victims, with hospitals starting to run out of beds again so terrified Filipinos that they now go to great lengths looking for a quick jab, whatever the brand is.

At the UP Philippine General Hospital in Manila, meanwhile, even the COVID-19 intensive care unit for children has filled up with patients still too young to be inoculated.

People’s early hesitation was fed by Sinovac’s comparatively lower efficacy and a suspicion that the procurement of preferred brands from the West was being delayed to give vaccinees no option but to settle for the Chinese serum.

This reluctance to be injected and the delayed arrival of competing brands contributed to the slow buildup of the vaccination program aimed at achieving herd immunity by December. We are now paying extra for that pro-China bias.

WIth the breaking in of the variants, especially Delta that was first detected in October in India where it fed a second massive surge in new infections of as many as 400,000-plus a day, even the bahala-na (come what may) Filipinos were troubled.

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THE DELTA variant has since hitchhiked its way around the globe, including the Philippines where some 216 cases have been reported. The correct number may be bigger since only a small percentage of positive cases are being sequenced by the Philippine Genome Center.

In the United States, Delta accounted for 83 percent of all sequenced cases last week, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was 75-percent of cases in several other countries.

As Filipino holdouts come out for quick inoculations, let’s hope that in the scramble, expired and mishandled lots do not get mixed with the good vaccines.

Several areas, topped by densely populated sections like Metro Manila and environs, have been locked down to physically block by sheer police action the spread of the Delta-led viral contamination.

The problem is we cannot lock in people without also locking down the economy. This results in losses far greater than the cost of buying and deploying the vaccines (if they could be procured fast enough in a global market that has tightened because of rising demand).

Imagine a growth engine like Greater Manila that contributes some 32 percent of the gross domestic product sputtering to an idle state as the police and barangay tanods watch helplessly with their guns and gear. Replicate this in other production centers.

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THE TIMING chart, as it was once explained to us, anticipated this problem period, with the people hopefully holding on until December when 70-80 percent of the population would have been immunized or vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

During this difficult phase, the poor and the jobless would be given “ayuda” (welfare aid) until a somewhat merry Christmas will light the way toward early next year, gradually getting brighter until the May 2022 national elections.

This explains why a contingency portion of budgeted funds of some agencies has not been released. There is a season for everything – remember “Ecclesiastes 3:1-8” that President Duterte loves to quote – and soon the hoard will be taken out of the political war chest.

Filipinos are known to be patient – it took them three centuries to yank off the Spanish colonial yoke and more than a dozen years to rebel against the oppressive Marcosian martial rule.

Political wizards expect the masses who are inured to sickness and hunger to survive the pandemic tempered by the “ayuda” ministering. Buoyed by the 1st Quarter faux prosperity, their hopes would then be rekindled enough to vote for Duterte’s candidates in May.

The tight timing may have been disturbed by the variants and the bumps in the vaccine supply chain. But, as the voice in your car’s GPS tracking system says, everything is being recalculated to fit into the desired May 9, 2022, arrival at destination.

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IT SEEMS, however, that the herd immunity promised as a Christmas gift would be “mission impossible” now despite the military prowess of vaccine czar Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr.

Instead of recalculating the ebb and flow of vaccines, Duterte’s task force is changing the terms. They are slyly inserting into the public’s vocabulary the term “population protection” which refers to vaccinating just 50 percent, not 70 percent, of the population.

When I tried explaining this to my barber, he said: Bakit di na lang nila palitan ang numbers na nire-report sa tao?” (Why don’t they just manipulate the figures being reported to the people?)

He has a point. The task force can just report in unnoticeable increments the supposed figures to fit the original plan until we all arrive – hallelujah! – to the promised 70-percent herd immunity. As in national election tallies, nobody would be able to spot the difference anyway.

Data of Philippines Vaccine Tracker posted Aug. 2 on Twitter (@HerdImmunityPH) had it that as of that date, 10.66 percent of the population have received their 1st dose and 8.27 percent have been fully vaccinated. At this rate, PVT says, herd immunity can be achieved in seven months, or in March 2022, well beyond the December 2021 target.

On Tuesday, meanwhile, the US delivered 3,000,060 doses of Moderna vaccine to Manila via the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility, a global initiative to support equitable access to the vaccines.

For once, President Duterte led some Cabinet members in welcoming a US delivery. US embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Law joined them. In July, 3.2 million doses of one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines were also delivered but without presidential presence.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 5, 2021)

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