First vaccinees as test bunnies | Inquirer Opinion
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First vaccinees as test bunnies

/ 05:07 AM January 28, 2021

I do not like to use the words guinea pigs because they are off-putting, so how about test bunnies? These words are used in the context of lab experiments. I am using test bunnies to refer to the first Filipino vaccinees. Not that they are being primed to be test bunnies. But by being first, they will show one and all the immediate and short-term side effects, if there will be some at all, of the anti-COVID-19 vaccines. The long-term effect that we expect would be immunity from the coronavirus (and its variants too, we hope) that causes COVID-19. Nothing adverse, we pray.

Vaccinee refers to the one injected with the vaccine and vaccinator to the one who administers the vaccine. The latter was called vacunador in our Hispanic past according to historian Ambeth Ocampo, hence the family name that some Filipinos still bear. We still use the word bakuna, and also for those unsightly bakuna sleeves that are in vogue.


When the Big Pharmas abroad were still in the thick of discovering a wonder vaccine that would end the pandemic and lockdowns worldwide, Filipino politicians and bigwigs were announcing with braggadocio their eagerness to undergo the tusok-tusok. Why, some in government even admitted to have had their shots on the sly, using contraband vaccines from undisclosed sources on the pretext that it was their way to fiercely protect their Commander in Chief, President Duterte. With their shadowy feat, they might have unwittingly put their own lives at risk and also the life of their boss who exhibits different shades of unhealthy gray.

First the President said he would be the first to get the vaccine to show one and all that there is nothing to worry about as regards its safety and effectivity. He must have been referring to the China-made vaccine that many are hesitant about as mini-surveys have shown but which, if one read his lips, was his preferred vaccine for the masses.


Then he and other presentado eager beavers changed their tune. They appeared to be conceding to the idea that the most vulnerable or at high risk be the first to get the vaccine. Sila muna. These would be the health-care frontliners, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and the underprivileged.

Now, from the chorus line: Why us? Why not them first? We will wait and see. Why make the vulnerable your test bunnies? These are some common reactions—mine, too—to the so-called priority list of vaccinees. The biblical adage that “the last will be first and the first will be last” does not apply in this iffy situation.

Social media posts about the vaccine’s possible untoward effects add to the hesitancy. Comic relief there is—memes, cartoons, and video flicks that show a variety of side-splitting effects. There is Queen Elizabeth’s likeness gyrating Bollywood-style to a heady Indian tune, a bunch of skimpily clad chicks who have transmogrified into candidates for Mr. Universe, not quite like Caitlyn Jenner but more like Arnold Schwarzenegger in drag. From my cinematic mind: a Chinese in Wuhan suddenly speaking in Chavacano or sing-song Hiligaynon.

Filipinos turn their agam-agam and their compatriots’ stupidities, proclivities, and hesitations into something funny. Pulse Asia survey results released Jan. 7 showed that nearly half of Filipinos would not want to have themselves vaccinated even if the vaccine would be free of charge.

Vice President Leni Robredo stressed last Sunday that Mr. Duterte shown in public getting the first shot of the vaccine would boost Filipinos’ confidence in the vaccine. The pambansang photobomber Sen. Bong Go had challenged the VP to have her vaccine jab in public. She said yes to the challenge. Et tu, Bong Go?

Well, palace spox Harry Roque said that the President had agreed to be vaccinated “as soon as it is available,” but it will be done in private. Is the President one of those men who turn deathly pale when they see women bearing syringes?

There is a lot down the road that we do not know. Not only about the vaccine itself, but also about the whole operation in bringing the vaccine to millions of qualified and willing Filipinos. Daunting is an understatement.



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