When the national government started acquiring anti-Covid vaccines in 2020, people in charge have targeted that at least 70 percent, or 78 million of the country’s population of 111 million should be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity so that Filipinos can return to the “old normal.”
We, therefore, find it unacceptable when the government has downgraded its target number of vaccinees after declaring that in order for the economy to bounce back, a sizable number of the population should be vaccinated so that restrictions in socio-economic activities can be eased. Health experts have also said that a vaccinated population could alleviate our already overburdened health and other frontline workers, and hospitals whose Covid and intensive care wards have consistently been filled to about 70 to 80 percent capacity.
Recently, one of the Covid czars and an official of the Department of Health announced that instead of “herd immunity,” government has shifted its strategy to achieving “population protection” – or reducing the number of deaths due to severe symptoms of the Covid-19.
The announcement was done just as other countries have announced of infections and transmission of new and more potent Covid variants.
The government was on track by promptly banning the entry of people from countries where deadly variants were detected but why change the target number of people to be vaccinated instead of complementing other containment measures currently imposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases?
We find this move a way for authorities to “manage expectations,” especially that the public was made to believe that by end of 2021, at least 70 percent of the country’s population would have been vaccinated. Of late, the government reported it hopes to fully vaccinate around seven million individuals by the end of this month, which is equivalent to 6.3 percent of the country’s population.
At present, only 3.5 million are fully vaccinated since the government started the vaccination rollout in March.
Plans did not happen based on the target date authorities have prepared. Some of the delays were beyond government’s control, but this is why several experts and other think tanks were appointed to come up with contingency measures.
Is reducing the target number a strategy? We think it is not.
Reducing the target number in order to make the results encouraging is only giving false sense of security when we all know that reaching the ideal number or even higher should be the ultimate goal.
Recently, the Social Weather Station reported that more Filipinos now want to be vaccinated. Amidst the difficulty that the nation is facing and the predicament the Covid response team is going through because of the delays in the delivery of vaccines, the SWS report should be considered a beacon of hope – a testament to the hard work that even with the apprehension and proliferation of misinformation and disinformation about vaccination, the patience and constant dishing out of factual information about the disease and the benefits of immunization have at least paid off.
This is not the time to back down, especially as the Department of Health reported on July 16 the first locally transmitted cases of the more infectious Delta Covid variant.
We ask the government through the national IATF to pursue its original target of vaccinees, recalibrate and reinforce strategies taking into consideration the entry of the Delta variant, and continue educating the public about vaccination.
Public trust should also be regained by admitting lapses and assure that measures are being done to remedy these gaps towards achieving herd immunity under the new normal.