Christmas is approaching — 34 days to go! So is the specter of a new wave of COVID-19 cases.
Let’s not repeat the mistake of Christmas 1918, during the Spanish flu pandemic, when, as World War I ended in November and Christmas was around the bend, homecoming dinners, holiday shopping, family reunions, and festive dances, thanks to half-hearted measures to curtail mass gathering, resulted in the deadly third wave of the mass illness that swept across the world, leaving over 50 million dead.
The three-day “National Vaccination Day” against COVID-19 from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1, 2021, of which Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 have been declared special working days while Nov. 30 is a regular holiday, Andres Bonifacio Day, is timely, especially as even the World Health Organization (WHO) has enjoined all countries to participate in the “Strategy to Achieve Global COVID-19 Vaccination by mid-2022.”
In the Philippines, the initiative dubbed as “Bayanihan Bakunahan” aims to vaccinate 15 million individuals in the three-day program, for which, the Department of Health (DOH) is mobilizing other government agencies, local government units (LGUs), civil society organizations, and private sector partners across the 17 regions of the country. According to DOH, 30,000 vaccination teams composed of health screeners, vaccinators, post-vaccination monitor personnel, health educators, registration personnel, encoders, and data consolidators are needed to achieve the goal, prompting such government agencies as the Department of Interior and Local Government to tap organizations like Sangguniang Kabataan as well as medical societies and medical schools for volunteers, no fewer than 160,000 of them.
The bigger goal is to achieve herd immunity, possible only once 50 to 70 million citizens are vaccinated by Dec. 31, 2021. The three-day program is a big leap toward the target if it manages to inoculate five million people per day over the three-day special working holiday at the 4,000 to 5,000 vaccination sites to be activated across the Philippines.
It is only a three-day affair, but in preparation for it, much of what we need to ramp up immunization will be made available beyond Dec. 1, including an intensified information campaign to combat vaccine hesitancy, which, according to the DOH, is now a problem involving only 10 to 15 percent of Filipinos, down from 35 percent in March 2021. More important — because the key to the success of this strategy is for the LGUs to meet their own vaccination targets — is the sustainment operations being set up to make “Bayanihan Bakunahan” work. To be conducted from Dec. 2 to Dec. 31, the operations involve assessing vaccination progress across the regions, improving the vaccination capacities of the LGUs, and regenerating resources and personnel in priority areas to ensure continuity.
There is more to do. As of Nov. 20, 2021, the Philippines has administered 73,917,573 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, only fully vaccinating about half the target or 32,993,083 individuals against the dreaded virus.
There is hope that we’re going to have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, as long as we can see that, while SARS-CoV-2 is still around, we are not helpless against it. Beyond achieving herd immunity, what we need is to keep going until the population is protected enough. No one is safe until we all are.