POSTSCRIPT / May 30, 2021 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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$1M, house and lot sweeten vaccine jabs

IN Ohio, US of A, a COVID-19 vaccinee could have his serum sweetened with $1 million if chosen in a weekly lottery. Nearer home in Las Piñas City, residents stepping up for the jab could win a new house and lot, motorcycles, and other valuable prizes being raffled off.

These are samples of incentives that officials offer to whip up enthusiasm for the vaccination race to achieve herd immunity by having at least 70 percent of the population inoculated to stop the pandemic. The coronavirus behind it has infected more than 1.2 million Filipinos.

President Duterte, relying on his task forces managing the vaccination and the campaign against COVID-19, has been saying he looks forward to attaining herd immunity by Christmas. This year.

In Ohio, the first winner in a “Vax-a-Million” weekly raffle was 22-year-old engineer Abbigail Bugenske. She was driving home when she got a call from Gov. Mike DeWine about her win. Minutes later, she was in her parents’ house screaming with excitement. More details in the news section.

Four more winners of the $1-million prize and four college scholarships will be drawn each Wednesday in the next four weeks. Vaccinees aged 12-17 are eligible for scholarships that include tuition, room and board, and books.

Ohio’s promotion has inspired similar lotteries in Colorado, Maryland, New York and Oregon. In New Jersey, residents aged 21 and older can get a free beer after their first vaccination.

In Metro Manila and other urban areas here, local officials have also started to announce vaccination incentives to dispel the finding of surveys that only three out of every 10 Filipinos want to be vaccinated.

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IN Las Piñas, Deputy Speaker and Rep. Camille Villar announced Thursday she would raffle off a new house-and-lot, motorcycles, and other valuable items for residents who get vaccinated under her “May Bahay sa Bakuna” program.

Las Piñas residents aged 18 years or older to be inoculated June 15-Dec. 23 with any COVID-19 vaccine will qualify for the raffle financed by personal, not government, funds. Villar stressed that vaccination is safe and essential to helping end the pandemic.

Raffle tickets are available in barangay halls for those already vaccinated and in vaccination centers for new vaccinees. The tickets must be dropped in barangay halls and AllHome and AllDay Supermarket branches in Las Piñas.

Monthly draws starting July 15 will be conducted and 50 winners given “pangkabuhayan” packages worth P5,000 each. The grand draw on Dec. 24 will pick the winners of two motorcycles and a new house and lot from Bria Homes.

Officials elsewhere are expected to announce incentives to raise their constituents’ enthusiasm for the vaccination that has been slowed down by lack of information and other issues related to marketing, communication and trust.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Friday that nearly 4.7 million individuals have been vaccinated against COVID-19, at an average of about 170,000 shots per day.

She added that the objective is to hit 500,000 jabs per day so as to have about 50 million individuals vaccinated by yearend. But delivering that many doses, she added, depends on global supplies and “if all our vaccine orders will arrive by the end of the year.”

 Herd immunity vs Population protection

FACING the likelihood of not achieving herd immunity before yearend as promised, Duterte’s operators are now trying to replace the “herd immunity” they have planted in the public mind with another idea, that of “population protection“.

Herd immunity is generally understood worldwide to refer to that stage when 70 to 80 percent of the community have gained immunity through vaccination or previous infections, thereby depriving the virus of enough human bodies to use to spread itself.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has said on its website: “If 80 percent of a population is immune to a virus, four out of every five people who encounter someone with the disease won’t get sick (and won’t spread the disease any further). In this way, the spread of infectious diseases is kept under control.”

For the past several months, the administration has accepted this concept and has in fact used it to explain why its vaccination drive is marked by draconian rules. But now that the herd immunity promised by yearend looks dim, it wants to change the term.

This reminds us of a trick some years back when it was noticed that too many Filipinos seemed to languish in poverty, based on surveys and metrics. What the administration did was simply to lower the poverty threshold and, voila!, suddenly fewer Filipinos were poor.

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IN the “population protection” idea being peddled by the administration as the new public health target, the threshold has been lowered to 50 percent of the population, which is easier to hit within the December deadline.

Population protection, the health department said, entails reducing the number of deaths and hospitalized patients through vaccination. But this has been the grand objective all along, whatever terms are used, except that the threshold has been lowered.

(Btw, more than 50 percent of the adult US population have been fully vaccinated, enabling some states to allow residents to not wear masks in not too crowded outdoor settings.)

At the rate the vaccination here has been dragging, monitored against target dates in the original chart, experts say that herd immunity (not population protection) could be achieved around the middle of 2023, not by Christmas this year.

The health department is also using the appearance of coronavirus variants that have slipped under the noses of incompetent and negligent sentinels to explain the difficulty of stemming the spread of the contagion.

Most people we hear deploring the situation say that no one seems to know the speed and direction the pandemic is spreading. The focus remains blurred. Announcements of vaccine procurement, deliveries and actual injection to warm bodies have been hazy.

We can understand why sometimes some people reeling from the scary confusion cry aloud “Who the **** is in charge?”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 30, 2021)

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