A ‘supply’ problem

Published May 30, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Dr. Jun Ynares


Dr. Jun Ynares
Dr. Jun Ynares

“How are you addressing the problem of vaccine hesitancy?”

That was the raging question of the past week. It appears to have been triggered by a controversy involving the top two officials of the land over the issue of an advertising campaign to “convince” the public to go and have themselves vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

“What vaccine hesitancy are you talking about?” we would say to those who asked us what we thought about the issue. We said that jokingly, of course.

Our view is that the so-called “vaccine hesitancy” phenomenon does not exist in the country, at least not in the level that it is being experienced in places like New York City and elsewhere in the United States. In those places, local government executives are offering “incentives” so that their “hesitant” constituents would go and get the vaccine. “Incentives” include lottery tickets.

There are also talks that anti-COVID 19 vaccines are administered free at some international ports of entry in the United States. “Anyone who wants it can get it,” some of our US-based friends told us. These come in the wake of US media reports that this country will have some 300 million in extra doses of the vaccine by July after about one-third of its population have been inoculated.

That is not our situation here on the ground.

We have no extra doses of anti-COVID 19 vaccines. We have no more vaccines to administer to the next set of recipients based in the order or priority set by the national government task force.

At this point, our problem is not “vaccine hesitancy”.

The challenge to most local governments is “excessive demand”, as one colleague puts it. The fact is there is a growing number of angry constituents demanding to know why they have not yet been called to the vaccination centers to get their first jab – despite having registered online with their local governments for some time now.

They have become so impatient that they have been hash-tagging their irate social media posts with the names of well-known media personalities, expecting perhaps that these broadcast journalists could pressure their local governments to put them ahead in the line.

People may have become so impatient that some enterprising individuals from other cities have reportedly resorted to a new business called “vaccination slot for sale”.

Bottomline: on the ground, recent experiences show us that the overwhelming demand to be vaccinated far exceeds available supply.

Local governments, as expected, are on the receiving end of the anger of an impatient public.

Understandable. After all, local governments are responsible for putting the vaccination system in place in their respective communities – from registration to actual vaccination to post-vaccination monitoring. The impression is that local governments, too, have full control over access to the supply of the precious vaccines.

The fact is local government depend entirely on the national government for the supply. It is the national government which receives the vaccines from international donors such as China and from the COVAX facility run by the World Health Organization (WHO). To date, local governments have no mandate nor authorization to undertake a direct purchase of anti-COVID 19 vaccines.

It is also the national government task force which determines which local governments get the supply of the vaccine first. We understand that the top priority is the National Capital Region. After all, this region is the socio-economic hub of the country – in addition to the fact that it has one of the highest incidents of COVID 19 infections. It is also interesting that people living in neighboring communities who have been infected contracted their disease while working at the National Capital Region.

Most local governments have covered the top three priorities in the vaccination pecking order: health workers and front-liners, senior citizens and people with co-morbidities. Most of them have received their second jab.

In most instances, there are no more doses left for those next in line.

The public will now have to wait and count on the word of Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez that supply will be replenished soon – and that there will be some of these fresh supplies that would find their way to areas outside of the National Capital Region.

Secretary Galvez announced last month that the country is expecting to receive a total of some 14 million doses of four vaccine brands to arrive in the country on the third quarter of this year – that means anytime between April and June.

It is almost June, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that the completion of the delivery of the 14 million doses would happen within the next four weeks.

In the meantime, we will have to ask for greater patience on the part of an angry public.

If our national leaders are to ever do an infomercial, we hope that the message would be that: patience.

The national government, too, has to rely on the availability of supply coming from international producers of the vaccine. We also have to understand that the Philippines does not enjoy preferential treatment in the international distribution list.

Patience is crucial. We have gone this far. We just have to wait a little bit more.

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