The Philippine government, beset with accusations of incompetence and corruption in its handling of the pandemic, has staged a vaccination campaign that any of its Southeast Asian neighbors could envy. In just three days this week, the country vaccinated 7.6 million people aged 12 and over. 34.53% of the country is now fully vaccinated.
Conky Quizon, field epidemiologist and member of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group, called it a “big, big deal” and attributed the unprecedented numbers to easy access to vaccines – there were 8,000 centers set up in the Philippines. – and several different vaccines offered, including Pfizer, Moderna and the Chinese Sinovax.
There was also the ripple effect. âI think it’s something cultural in the Philippines,â Quizon says. When you see so many people participating, she said, âyou think it has to be good, that it has to be safe, that it has to be effective if so many people are in line. So I think it made a difference.
The idea that his workplace imposes compulsory vaccination convinced Elmer Balanoyos, 33, a driver for a towing company, to be vaccinated. He said he was hesitant about vaccines, then found that no one he knew who had ever been vaccinated had experienced bad side effects. Balanoyos is also concerned about the highly mutated omicron variant, which has yet to emerge in the Philippines. âOne of the reasons I came here is because of the new variant,â he says.
“Here” is the upscale Glorietta Mall in the Makati City shopping district of Metro Manila, which is usually teeming with Christmas shoppers this time of year during Christmas revelry in the cities. Philippines predominantly Catholic. One of the complex’s cavernous rooms doubled this week as a vaccination site.
Jocelyn Gorzon, 48, joined the crowd waiting for a hit, overcoming her fear of needles. She works as a domestic servant for a family in a well-to-do enclave nearby, and her employer has told her that she needs to be vaccinated. “Everyone in the house [is] except me, âshe said, adding,â It’s good for all of us.
Dante Caburnay, 26, was checking a store in the mall and went to get the shot. He says he would never have considered a vaccine without the fact that he soon plans to propose marriage on the resort island of Boracay, where a vaccination is mandatory. With Christmas music floating in the background, he says, âSo I have no choice. “
It is no coincidence that the country’s most ambitious vaccination effort to date coincided with the run-up to the holidays. Filipino families traditionally come together for large multigenerational gatherings, and health officials have said the vaccination campaign is intended to provide Filipinos greater protection during this busy social season.
The government is also interested in promoting economic activity. Christmas is normally a time of strong retail sales triggered by employee bonuses and remittances from Filipinos working overseas. The relaxed closures are already drawing more people to malls, but tied Filipinos, reeling from the pandemic-induced slowdown, may be unable or unwilling to spend.
Quizon says the harsh financial realities of a severe case of COVID-19 also persuade people to get vaccinated. She says it’s not uncommon for critically ill patients to end up with hospital bills totaling 2 million pesos, or $ 40,000. Even after government insurance pays off, she says patients owe up to $ 24,000 in personal expenses.
Quizon says ordinary Filipinos are starting to realize that they “had better get the vaccine because you really can’t afford to be sick.”
Fortunately, the government’s vaccination effort has developed its own momentum. The organizers, who had hoped to vaccinate 9 million people in three days, urged municipalities to leave the sites open to take advantage of the great public interest.
News of the week’s impressive turnout has been a welcome respite for Filipinos weary of the pandemic. They lost more than 48,000 people in one of the region’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks. Their economy has been decimated in nearly two years of repeated blockages. And the country has been found to be lagging behind in the region, rolling out vaccines more slowly than many of its neighbors. Even after its successful vaccination campaign, the country has vaccinated just over a third of its 110 million people. In contrast, Vietnam vaccinated 55% of its population and Cambodia fully vaccinated 81%.
As vaccinations have increased, new daily infections in the Philippines have also declined significantly. The number of new cases during the last week is 4,300 against 146,000 the week of September 5 to 11, the record.
University of the Philippines professor and pandemic analyst Guido David said: âLast year the country peaked at around 2,000 cases per day, and now we’re well below that. And the vaccines seem to be helping. He says that the positivity rate estimated at 2.5% compared to the rate of 24% during the September outbreak “confirms that the number of cases has dropped significantly.” The country’s largest COVID-19 referral medical facility, the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, reports that no new COVID patients have been admitted in the past 2 days.
However, last week’s death toll (807) is unusually high given the low number of new cases.
There is another theory for the drop in cases. David argues that maybe “40 to 50% of the entire population” may have already been exposed to COVID-19, but not all of them have been counted in the country’s tally. David says that because “there is no incentive” for the Filipino masses who struggle financially to spend money on expensive tests, many cases of the virus go unrecorded. And if so, he says the virus circulated naturally and, by default, provided broad immunization.
David says that with the last vaccination campaign the country may have turned a corner.
But President Duterte sees no reason to relax as the omicron variant gains traction globally. With characteristic frankness, he urged people to get vaccinated. This week, he told his compatriots to choose: “Premature death or live longer? “
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