Will 2021 be another write-off? (3) | Inquirer Opinion
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Will 2021 be another write-off? (3)

/ 04:06 AM April 22, 2021

Assuming we could do, if everything went amazingly well, more than 200,000 vaccinations per day, it would be around two years before we can administer two doses to 70 million people and achieve the necessary national herd immunity. Maybe it could be shorter if we concentrated only on vaccinating everyone in NCR Plus, where around 47 percent of the economy originates. But I imagine there’d be a lot of angry, unhappy governors and mayors if we did that. Given the record to date, I’m not too confident of 200,000. But even that means it’s end-2022 before we’re back to (the new) normal. If you work on the basis that, as history shows, nothing ever goes smoothly in the Philippines, then you know herd immunity is a long way off.

“India’s vaccine rollout was late and riddled with setbacks. If inoculations don’t quicken, India would need more than two years to inoculate 70 percent of the population.” If you replace the word “India” with “the Philippines,” I don’t think you’d be far out of place with that statement. Those were quotes from The New York Times.

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And, anyway, how can we get to these numbers? A Pulse Asia survey showed that 61 percent of Filipinos say they won’t allow themselves to be vaccinated. That’s the first challenge to overcome before you can even think about all the rest. I had two suggestions for that in my column last March 11 (“A massive PR campaign”). We need a massive PR campaign, and Dengvaxia re-licensed to give people the confidence they used to have in vaccines. In 2015, pre-Dengvaxia, some 93 percent of Filipinos viewed vaccines as important, according to the Vaccine Confidence Project of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. That’s herd level, that’s what we have to get back to. Post-Dengvaxia, it was down to 32 percent, highlighting how important it is for the FDA to explain that the Dengvaxia license wasn’t withdrawn for safety reasons, but because an amendment to not inoculate seronegative people was needed. The vaccine is safe, and its license should be renewed. Once people understand that it was not linked to a safety concern, then they will regain confidence and put more trust in the FDA.

Finally, it’s disheartening how poorly government is treating health care workers (HCWs). An online protest a couple of weeks ago should never have happened. I have a sneaking suspicion that our public servants haven’t been able to discard their bureaucratic fear of not doing anything that might get questioned later. They haven’t been able to shift into the emergency mode that Republic Act 11494, or the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, allows. It would be good if the President, in his weekly discourse, stated clearly and bluntly that they are protected from inadvertent errors. That speed of disposal of funds, PPE, etc. must dominate their thinking and action. We must support our HCWs who are doing a heroic job.

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It has all led to an economy, like the world’s, decimated by a deadly virus. The World Bank, Fitch Solutions, Japan Center for Economic Research, and United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific have all downgraded their forecasts for the Philippines due to failure to contain the virus and the slow roll-out of the vaccination program.

As Global Sources (authored by former finance undersecretary Romy Bernardo) said in its Feb. 25 report: “2021 is shaping up to be another lackluster year for the local economy. Hopes of achieving herd immunity have been dashed by delayed vaccine procurement and the lack of vaccines has meant more caution in relaxing restrictions, keeping segments of the population locked down and public transport at half capacity. Although global economic prospects have improved markedly with the roll-out of several vaccines, the outlook for domestic demand is still a grim one characterized by a slow crawl out of last year’s recession, uneven recovery across sectors and income groups, high joblessness and low investment appetites, and productivity losses. Our 5.5% GDP growth forecast for the year is below the government’s target (6.5%-7.5%) and much less upbeat than the projections of private analysts and multilateral agencies. The approaching election season introduces many risks that are expected to lead to sub-optimal economic policy choices especially in the area of economic regulation.”

Whether Romy is right, or the government does achieve its goals, it still leaves us behind where we were in 2019. It will need 2022 to bring us back to square one. And only if we do a better job than is being done now. By then, we’ll have a new government.

So, do we write off 2021? I’d suggest the answer, sadly, is, yes.

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