The race to herd immunity

Published June 2, 2021, 12:11 AM

by Former Senate President Manny Villar

Of Trees and Forest

Former Senate President
Manny Villar

As we near the halfway mark of the year, it has become increasingly clear that ending the COVID-19 pandemic is dependent on our capacity to vaccinate our people. Of course, we should continue to strictly implement health protocols—wear masks, sanitize often, physical distancing—but inoculating a great majority of our people should be our top priority. It should be our primary goal in the next months and years.

The success of our vaccination program against the coronavirus is no doubt contingent on the supply of vaccines. We started quite slow but we are starting to beef up supply. According to the government’s timeline, 3.4 million doses of the COVID-19 from Sinovac, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are expected to be delivered in the Philippines this month.

While the supply comes in, we need to address some issues that might hamper our success in vaccinating our population. The first is our capacity to vaccinate as many people as possible. It is not just a question of supply but also a question of our ability to set up the logistics to vaccinate millions of people in an efficient and safe way. There is no use ramping up our vaccination efforts if vaccination centers themselves become “superspreader” events because of lax safety protocols.

As of May 27, we have been immunizing more than 160,000 people per day. What happens if supplies come in and we need to vaccinate 70 million people by yearend in order to achieve herd immunity? Can we vaccinate 600,000 a day?

Interestingly, this part of the year also corresponds to about a year before the May 2022 elections. I think that the ability to efficiently and safely organize a vaccination drive, strictly implement health protocols and the ability to nurse back the economy to life should become important competitive metrics for local government units.

The pandemic has put the spotlight on LGUs, more specifically, on the need to have efficient local governments that can serve as frontliners in our response to pandemics and the like. So I think that we should let the LGUs compete in terms of these measures. Right now media organizations have been tracking the number of COVID-19 cases per city/municipality, province and region. Let us also publicize metrics on how many people have been vaccinated by LGUs, how efficient vaccination programs are, how LGUs effectively implement health protocols and more importantly how they bring the economy back to life.

In other words, let it be a contest among LGUs. Let us see who has the better program and the ability to deliver. This will test the creativity and efficiency of LGUs and their leaders. This will also be an important input for voters in the May 2022 elections. Instead of empty promises and propaganda, they will see something more concrete and real in terms of performance and track record.

I am a believer in the value of competition. Competition incentivizes creativity. This is true in both the private and public spheres. Imagine if one or two LGUs are performing very, very well in terms of their vaccination program. That will allow constituents of other LGUs to compare—why are they doing better than us? Why are they vaccinating more people than us? That should also allow other LGUs to look and learn from the experiences of successful LGUs.

LGUs, for instance, should be more creative in addressing vaccine hesitancy. My daughter Camille, who represents Las Pinas, and Deputy Speaker in the House of Representatives, has organized a raffle for her constituents who have been vaccinated. A house and lot, grocery packages, and, motorcycles, I think, are strong incentives to overcome vaccine hesitancy. California, Ohio, Oregon and Colorado in the US have offered a $1.5 million vaccine lottery to incentivize getting the coronavirus vaccine. Hong Kong has done the same offering a HK$10.8 million one-bedroom apartment as grand prize.

Governance is sometimes viewed as following systems and procedures. There are certain ways of getting things done. But just like in business, the art of governing also involves thinking out of the box.

 
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