The heart and pork of the matter

Published February 14, 2021, 12:21 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng


Philip Cu Unjieng

Happy Day of Hearts everyone! This certainly is a strange new world we now live in, when Valentine’s Day requires a veneer of social distancing, with face masks and shields on, while walking “alcohol-washed” hand and hand with the one we love… if we dare. It’s getting so couples have to first swap results of their PCR, antigen, or saliva tests (I did say tests, the actual saliva-swapping can follow) before making those “right” moves that spell intimacy or closeness. And like the home pregnancy tests of old, we’re overjoyed to find out we have negative results.

So if it’s not your partner or loved one getting the special treatment this 2021, who is? Have you read about hog lanes? It would seem that one point, with the shortage in pork products and the swine fever, there were “hog lanes” being established to ensure the swift movement and delivery of pork to the local markets. Unfortunately, the fact that this accessibility was coupled with instituting price ceilings on these same pork products meant the dedicated “lanes” were there, but the hog growers and traders felt the ceilings made the commercial endeavor a “fail” from the start – leading the government to liberalize the importation of pork products. So chalk that up as special treatment for our local pigs that really wasn’t – no lover’s lane there.

Are our medical front-liners, seniors, poor citizens, and essential workforce truly getting the special treatment when the vaccines arrive later this week? Listening to the spokespersons of the government, they claim they’re more than 100% ready. And I’m sorry, but when bravado and claims of that sort are being made, it just makes me more fearful and cautious. When even the most advanced and modern of nations in the West have experienced systemic breakdowns, issues, and problems with their vaccination program and its equitable distribution, how are we going to manage with the logistical nightmare of being a nation of islands?

It’s so easy to pay lip service to the distribution hierarchy of front-liners, Seniors, the poor, and the essential workforce – our vaccine program’s Top 4. But given there’s such a finite number of vaccines coming this first quarter of 2021, I think it begs the question of how is the government planning to prioritize within the hierarchy, how will it be distributed, and in what quantities to the different regions? Are LGUs left to fend for themselves?

Just take the case of medical front-liners alone. Who will be the first? National hospitals such as PGH, or will it be according to which areas have the most cases, or the fastest growth? – and mind you, those are two different categories. Within those areas, which hospitals will get vaccines, and how many per hospital? Within that nominated hospital, how do you rank who gets administered the vaccines. Doctors first? Nurses? Orderlies? How are you defining front-liners, and if there are only so many doses assigned to a particular health center, who dictates the order of administering the doses?

I think it would be better, and good for avoiding any subsequent public outcry, if all these issues were made clear in detail. It’s obvious that not all the front-liners in this country will end up being vaccinated, unless we’re clearly defining and limiting as to who constitute front-liners. Will there even be some left over to administer to seniors, and at what pace? And then to the poor and essential workforce? I think too much is being taken for granted under the umbrella proclamation of Top 4 priorities, without a truly extensive game plan being spelled out. Or are we being vague on purpose?

That’s why my eyebrows were raised and hit the ceiling, when I read about politicians and athletes heading to the Tokyo Summer Olympics being touted and petitioned as priorities in our vaccination program. I fully understand where that sentiment is coming from – our athletes being protected as they compete for national honor, or even politicians being included as “essential workforce.” But given the very limited number of first shipment vaccines heading our way as part of the national recovery program, is it even realistic talking about parties beyond the original Top 4 priorities?

I’m raising these issues and questions precisely because I would hate it for the Government to be criticized later on. Full transparency and clarity can be two very different things; and while it’s still early on, I think we can avoid a lot of back-biting, nit-picking, and the outrage of some parties, if it’s all spelled out to us, and we understand how these finite resources of vaccines will be distributed to the last dose.

Look at Indonesia. There the vaccination program had intentionally prioritized the younger people, frontline medical staff, and public sector workers (the workforce between 18 and 59), over the more vulnerable elderly. This is because they’ve proclaimed economic growth as the hoped-for result. So vaccinating those with highest infection rate but low mortality rate became Indonesia’s game plan. It’s controversial, to say the least, but it was all spelled out from the get go, although since modified to also prioritize the elderly. And as of February 8, more than 800,000 people have received their first dose.

Looking at our other Southeast Asian neighbors. Both Singapore and Myanmar (despite the military coup) have commenced vaccination programs, while Thailand hopes to begin theirs this month of February.

If you’re a private company importing your own supply of vaccine doses; having paid for it yourself, I don’t believe anyone has the right to query the distribution you put into effect. But the government’s supply will obviously be open to scrutiny. So call me a worrywart if you like, but I’m really praying things go smoothly and as mapped out here in our country. With so much at stake, I would just hate it if the vaccines and their distribution and administering became hot political issues in the months to come.