The front of the line (2)
Last week, I wrote on the hesitations about coronavirus vaccine distribution in the Philippines, based on problems and issues that have already been encountered abroad. I wrote what many are already thinking — that certain populations, including high-profile figures and the police force, would be more likely to receive the COVID-19 vaccine than the health workers and vulnerable old and sick prioritized by the World Health Organization’s guiding principles on vaccine access. This supposition is disappointingly supported by the President himself, who has already expressed that he wants the military and the police force to be at the forefront of vaccination. Given the lack of organization and coordination that has characterized the nation’s pandemic response, coupled with a culture of impunity and inequity in subjecting patients to both diagnosis and treatment, disasters in vaccine allocation would not be surprising.
Still, it’s disappointing to see just how dismal vaccine access is looking, even before it’s actually procured and distributed. As of this writing, there have been reports of unauthorized vaccination activity in the Philippines, as well as a probe into the matter. It was reported last week that a Filipino businessman admitted to receiving a dose of a China-made vaccine last month. Other reports claim that an unknown source has offered the assurance of a vaccine, which will arrive later next year, if a payment is made before Dec. 21, 2020. While probes are still ongoing, we have titbits of news from the President’s mouth himself: He claimed this weekend during an
Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases meeting that many have already been inoculated with the Sinopharm vaccine. “Halos lahat ng sundalo natusukan na,” he said. He even asked during the meeting if he could get vaccinated “again” once the Pfizer vaccine becomes available—peculiar wording that some have interpreted to mean that he’s already been vaccinated, despite repeated warnings from the government itself against vaccination prior to authorized distribution.
Even though the President assures that each Filipino will get the COVID-19 vaccine, generously including even the Abu Sayyaf Group and the New People’s Army, these events and reports are not exactly reassuring. We might all get it — might being the operative word — but when, and what injustice and neglect will take place before every eligible Filipino is inoculated?
One thinks back to the beginning of the pandemic, when so-called essential goods — alcohol, masks, tissue paper, and even basic groceries — were hoarded and then subject to increasingly unreasonable price hikes: Impossible to procure for some, easier to purchase for those with money. One thinks back to a time when coronavirus tests were strictly limited and ideally reserved only for symptomatic patients, but asymptomatic senators and officials could get tested, more than once even, while being asymptomatic. One thinks back to a time when rapid tests, against the advice of health experts, found popularity as a less expensive and more easily available form of testing, specially as an employment requirement for those who needed to get back to work to provide for their families. One also remembers that negative COVID-19 tests and medical certificates are being fabricated and falsified even now, because such documents are required for workplaces that might not necessarily be able to provide them.
Basically, Filipinos have been trying to hack their way through quarantine to survive and make a living, while money and power have allowed others to sail through it. Once the vaccine is available, I’m afraid that Filipinos will once again feel like they need to look out only for themselves and try any means necessary to get it, without the assurance that they will be provided for in a timely and equitable way. On top of issues that have already been encountered abroad, I think it’s reasonable to expect hoarding and high-priced selling, unauthorized distribution and illogical allocation. After all, based on the President’s words, these are all already happening.
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