Vaccination: Not a choice but a necessity
A Pulse Asia survey conducted in late November to early December 2020 showed that 47 percent of Filipinos didn’t want to get vaccinated. The main reason cited was concern over the safety of the vaccines. This is troubling news, because for the vaccination program to work, it requires the participation of a majority of the population so herd immunity can be achieved.
The Department of Health, in cooperation with local government units, has embarked on an information drive to counter false information and claims about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. The success of the vaccination program is crucial to the recovery of the country’s economy. Economists have noted that if there is no progress against the virus, the economy could grow only 2.9 percent in 2021. This is a very significant decrease from previous estimates of a 6.5- to 7.5-percent expansion. With this projection, the importance of achieving herd immunity to help open up the economy becomes more urgent.
But with a significant number of Filipinos wary about taking the vaccine, will a sustained information drive be enough? A factor that needs to be considered in this matter is that all available vaccines expected to be in use at the moment are under emergency use authorization (EUA). This means that unlike other vaccines you can readily avail of, these vaccines have not yet been approved for commercial distribution. It takes years for a vaccine to get to that stage, and that is why the general guideline for the administration of the vaccine is mostly on a voluntary basis.
Given the challenges that lie ahead and the EUA status of available vaccines, should the vaccine program of the Philippines be made mandatory?
In principle, and as a policy, getting vaccinated should be a voluntary option for Filipinos. However, it will only be thus for a select few who have the means to remain isolated from the rest of the world. For the vast majority of Filipinos, vaccination is going to be a necessity, because the economy needs to restart, businesses need to operate regularly, people need to make a living, and customers will require services.
With COVID-19 still rampant, getting vaccinated offers a measure of safety. That vaccination certificate becomes an advantage. Businesses that can assure their customers that they will be safe because all their employees are vaccinated will have an edge over businesses that don’t. Even businesses in manufacturing would find it advantageous to have their workforce vaccinated. It minimizes the risk of one work crew member infecting others and thereby disrupting operations and timetables.
Those working as frontliners (health services, military, police) will all have to be vaccinated; the nature of their job requires it. As for other jobs, even if it can be argued that businesses cannot legally make vaccination mandatory, the hiring process will see to it that those who have vaccination certificates have the advantage in a competitive labor market. Given two equally qualified candidates, which one is an employer likely to choose—the one who got vaccinated, or the one who didn’t and may pose a risk to the workforce?
Then there is travel. Vaccination certificates in order to get on a flight was an accepted practice even before the pandemic. Some countries still require vaccination against certain diseases as an entry requirement. With debates about so-called “vaccine passports,” such a requirement will mean you don’t get much of a choice if your work requires you to travel.
Clearly, eventually it will become necessary for most people to get vaccinated. Their livelihood and well-being essentially depend on it. This is a reality that must be accepted. Choice in this situation is basically a luxury very few can afford.
As such, it becomes important that national and local governments ensure that not only are the vaccines safe, but safeguards must also be in place to prevent unscrupulous individuals from taking advantage of the situation by selling fake vaccine certificates or fake vaccines. Finally, the vaccines must also be accessible to all those who need them, at affordable prices, but preferably for free.
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Moira G. Gallaga served three Philippine presidents as presidential protocol officer.
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