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Better than nothing

The Philippines ranks only second to Indonesia in Southeast Asia in terms of COVID-19 infections and deaths but it is among the last countries in the region to start vaccinating its people who will be celebrating their various stages of never ending quarantines for exactly one year in a couple of days.

Early this week the first batch of official and unsmuggled vaccines made it into the country. The delivery of 600,000 doses of the Sinovac Biotech vaccine donated by China meant our much-awaited COVID-19 vaccination program had finally begun. 700 people got their first dose of the donated vaccine a day after but considering that the target is around 70 million Filipinos if we are to achieve herd immunity, the start of the vaccination program could be described as having started with a whimper rather than a bang.

If I sound like I’m not impressed, you are absolutely correct. It is a relief that we finally got out of our self-inflicted rut but what our government has done so far hasn’t exactly inspired confidence. There is nothing impressive about a country that finally starts its much-awaited vaccination program because of a donation. What makes matters worse is despite the highly publicized dry runs and simulations, our government couldn’t even symbolically start the vaccination effort with a bang. 600,000 doses arrived but we managed to inoculate only 700 people on day 1. At that sad rate, it will take 857 days or more than 2 years to use up the donated Sinovac doses that will hardly even make a dent in the march to herd immunity. After all the posturing, the bragging and the pretending, our government didn’t even build up the capacity to deploy the vaccine in the most expedient and efficient manner possible.

After months of promises by their leader, government officials failed to procure the right amount and quality of vaccines for the Filipino people. We expected them to do better than that and in the olden days, when standards for performance existed, heads would’ve rolled after such a monumental failure. Luckily for them, Filipinos have already been trained to lower expectations and increase resilience instead.

We wanted enough quality vaccines. What we got was a token donation of a lower quality vaccine.

If procuring the vaccines we wanted is not possible given the competence level of the people in charge, it would’ve been  nice to see government flex its vaccination muscles when the first batch of vaccines arrived. Instead the awesome resources of our government could only manage to inject 700 people in one day and then officials patted themselves on the back for supposedly doing a good job.

The moral of this week is that we should be happy because what happened is better than nothing.

As a vaccine, Sinovac works. Its current efficacy rate of 50.38 percent barely crosses the 50 percent efficacy threshold set by the WHO but it does make the grade. It’s a bit like having a president who took 7 years to complete high school. Both barely work and there are people who are totally fine with that.

While yes, vaccines are important and we need to get as many Filipinos vaccinated ASAP, the trouble with being last place is seeing how other countries have done it. Their governments delivered on promises while we jealously watched. The donated Sinovac shots that kicked off our vaccination effort shouldn’t go to waste and can be used on those who need it as we work on achieving herd immunity but no matter how you frame it, “better than nothing” is an insult to the Filipino people.

The problem with low quality is when better quality stuff exists. There are vaccines with efficacy at 90 percent and higher, backed by properly documented, peer reviewed studies. There are governments that have successfully reopened their economies by now. Knowing that such things exist and are possible makes it difficult to stomach being told that what we are getting now “is better than nothing.” What did we do to deserve this misery?

People who pay the proper taxes deserve quality stuff. If you come to think of it, Filipinos cannot evade taxes and then tell the BIR that better than nothing is fine and yet here we are, grimacing as government officials treat us like beggars that can’t be choosers, demanding our appreciation for doing a mediocre job of running our nation during a global pandemic.

The good news is that although the start is terrible and we are being made to applaud getting better than nothing, quality vaccines are apparently on their way. In a couple of weeks, Filipinos will have better choices and only those who have no choice will be forced to accept the better than nothing. We may be last, we may be late, but we will eventually get something that is better than nothing.

The only question is if we have already given up and are willing to accept this way of thinking and governance as the norm, or are we going to tell our so-called representatives and leaders that we deserve better than this? And what do we do with them if they don’t listen and take action to protect our interests?*

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