Our Bakuna Matata

Published May 30, 2021, 12:06 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng


Philip Cu Unjieng

If for Timon and Pumbaa in the Lion King, the Swahili phrase meant “No worries for the rest of your days”; that problem-free philosophy is not something we can deem applicable for these times. A mass vaccination program seems to be our only hope for bringing some form of normalcy on the horizon, and for staging an economic recovery. But let’s not delude ourselves, that’s easier said than done – as there yet so many hurdles and problems we have to overcome, to truly be on that particular “track.” Right now, whether we like it or not, we’re Asia’s slow train.

A2, that’s me, a senior citizen with co-morbidities; and last May 19th, I got my second dose of SinoVac. It was never an issue for me as to whether I’d subject myself to the vaccine. It wasn’t even a case of which brand, as I’ve always said the one right in front of me, being placed into the syringe, will be fine. More than brand, I was actually worried about the conditions of storage, and how organized the administering would be. Storage because it could impact on the vaccine’s efficacy, and if being asked to go to a crowded public place and line-up, that’s already counter to what a high risk individual such as myself should be doing to stay safe. My fear was more that in the effort to be vaccinated, one would catch the virus.

And that’s why I have to commend Mayor Abby Binay and Makati on a job that’s being well done. As a Makatizen, I registered online, and got my appointment less than a week from registering. Assigned to Colegio de San Agustin’s covered court, I was in and out (including the post-vaccine waiting time to gauge if any adverse reaction) in 30 minutes. It was well-organized, socially distanced, and the Belo Medical Group were assisting. I even had Dr. Hayden Kho, Jr. escort me to the two registering tables before I got my first dose of SinoVac. On May 19, on the dot, I got the text informing me about the second dose, and it took just as much time to head out fully vaccinated. June 1 is Makati Day, and am happy to be a Makatizen during this highly unusual time.

A recent SWS survey disclosed that when asked which vaccine they preferred, 39 percent responded with SinoVac, while 32 percent picked Pfizer, and 22 percent chose AstraZeneca. But I think more telling was how in another survey, with a bigger sample group, and with No Vaccine allowed as a choice, a high 42 percent elected No Vaccine. Obviously, there’s still a lot of mistrust and doubt about these vaccines, and that poses a big problem.

Last week, Moody’s Analytics declared the Philippines as the “clear laggard” in Asia when it comes to economic recovery. It cited China, Taiwan, South Korea, and Vietnam for returning to pre-pandemic output levels, and mentioned that Indonesia and Thailand are on track to return to those levels within the year. Unfortunately, in our case, the success of the LGU’s in handling the pandemic and vaccination programs – things we’re ready to crow about, have also meant great variance within the country; and Moody says, are indicators that no cohesive national policy for testing, tracing, and vaccination is in place.

The Philippine Retailers Association’s president, Rosemarie Ong, spearheaded the association’s support to the government’s call for citizens to get vaccinated – calling it the best chance to rebuild the economy and the livelihoods of our people. The PRA statement mentioned that the retail industry’s frontliners have long been equally exposed to the virus and yet, continue to serve the public. The vaccine and moving to herd immunity is still the most hopeful opportunity to bring about a positive near-future.

And I love how big business is also doing it’s utmost to make vaccination an attractive choice. Earlier in the week, SM Megamall was awarded a Safety Seal by the Mandaluyong LGU. It’s Mega Trade Hall was converted to a vaccination center, and its truly one of the nicest I’ve seen – with a row of La-Z-Boy chairs and oxygen tanks in the recovery area. They’ve also convinced retailers to have special discounts and offers for vaccinated mall-goers.

And I am aware that the same issues beset other nations striving for the aforementioned herd immunity. In the USA, the state of Ohio set up a special vaccine lottery, with a chance to win $1 million in one of five weekly drawings. To register, one has to prove they are at least partially vaccinated. And yes, more than 2.7 million adult residents of Ohio have now registered for the lottery. In addition to the cash draw, a full four year scholarship was offered, leading to big increases in vaccinated 16 to 17 years old Ohioans.

So I can only hope that in due time, some incentivizing measures will be created to hasten the numbers of our vaccinated. And of course, this presumes that the supply of vaccines in this country are sufficient to bring about this 70 percent of the population herd immunity we are aiming for.