With droves of young and old already going out of their homes in the run up to the Christmas shopping rush, with the misplaced hope the vaccines against the coronavirus pandemic are about to be rolled out, we should pay regard to the warning raised by the World Health Organization.
WHO has warned against vaccine complacency, stressing it is erroneous to believe the COVID-19 crisis is over with persistent jabs on the horizon.
“Vaccines do not equal zero COVID,” said WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan, adding not everyone would be able to receive it early next year.
This means vaccination will add what Ryan said “a major, major, powerful tool to the tool kit that we have. But by themselves, they will not do the job” even as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said progress on vaccines signaled “light at the end of the tunnel.”
The vaccines about to be rolled out are no magic bullet for the uncontrollable coronavirus, not a drug, treatment, nor medical therapy that provides an immediate cure to coronavirus without negative side effects or consequences.
Which means we should beware and be aware, that the vaccines may not provide an immediate and extremely effective solution to the COVID problem which is very complex or hard to resolve.
WHO has said 51 candidate vaccines are being tested on humans, with 13 reaching final-stage mass testing.
Britain on Wednesday became the first Western country to approve an inoculation, from Pfizer-BioNTech, for general use, piling pressure on other countries to swiftly follow suit.
The United States is expected to give a green light later this month.
Belgium, France and Spain have said jabs will begin in January for the most vulnerable.
With the imminent arrival of vaccines that need storage at ultra-low temperatures, US companies are preparing for a massive logistical effort to aid their distribution.
Firms specializing in insulating containers are on a war footing after Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine needs to be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit (-70 Celsius).
Meat processing giant Smithfield said it was ready to put the cold rooms at its abattoirs at the disposal of rollout operations.
And US logistics giant UPS is producing 500 kilograms of dry ice an hour in its depots and has developed portable freezers capable of storing the vaccines at temperatures down to -112 Fahrenheit.
Last weekend, the Philippine government announced it was ready to spend as much as P73 billion for the procurement of coronavirus vaccines to achieve “herd immunity.”
In a public press briefing, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado said the country currently had P10 billion in standby funds for vaccine procurement under Bayanihan 2, and a P2.5 billion initial budget dedicated to vaccine procurement under the proposed national budget for 2021.
The P73 billion budget will be enough to vaccinate around 60 million Filipinos, Avisado said.
There is a growing perception the pandemic is over – you watch public transport like buses and jeepneys in Metro Manila and the outlying skirts – and many passengers, tolerated by bus drivers and fare masters who want to earn a hefty percentage at the end of the day, hardly give a damn on health protocols like wearing of face masks, face shields, and physical distancing.
The bottles of sanitizing alcohol at entrances of these public transport modes are no longer there, with many in the moving multitude rushing to beat the closing time in malls and other department stores allowed to open during the holidays.
We would like to see how police, the law enforcement agents, would respond to this visually abnormal lack of discipline among residents who violate social distancing rules while this country of 110 million people fight the spread of the coronavirus during the festive season.
From last weekend’s figures – and the numbers continue to rise daily – there were already nearly 436,400 infections, against the world’s 75.2 million, and 8,500 plus deaths, compared to the global ledger of 1.5 million deaths.
The Philippines has the second highest COVID-19 cases and casualties in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia, which reported nearly 564,000 infections and almost 17,500 deaths as at last weekend.
The other day, the Philippine National Police threatened to cane people who violate social distancing protocols, as the predominantly Christian country celebrates one of the world’s longest Christmas seasons, starting as early as September, with crowds starting to flock to a few sprawling malls and shopping centers allowed to open their sliding doors despite the pandemic.
General Cesar Binag, commander of the coronavirus task force, told a news conference police and soldiers would patrol in public areas in the capital Manila, the hotspot of COVID-19 cases, carrying 1-meter rattan sticks to measure distancing.
Binag said the “social distancing protocols” would focus on high traffic areas like transport hubs and public markets.
While we would like to see how the health protocols would be implemented in and by the multitude who want to celebrate Christmas during the pandemic, we also call on the people to help protect themselves and the others by following to the letter the protocols being implemented.
Not just the police and soldiers we must have our eyes on.
We need to look at the people as well, particularly those who think, overwhelmed in their conviction the coronavirus is gone, and remind them that there is a loud WHO warning.
Certainly, the cane image may raise eyebrows with human rights advocates who have criticized the government’s tough approach to the pandemic. But these same advocates, rather sadly, have not raised the same injunction or reprimand against violators of health protocols.
Authorities have apprehended, warned and penalized around 700,000 people since March – the start of lockdown imposed by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte – for violating measures such as ignoring physical distancing and not wearing masks, according to police data.
Restrictions were partially removed in June to allow more businesses to reopen.
During the Yuletide, the government banned Christmas parties, family reunions and carol singing outside homes, while an earlier plan to allow minors to visit shopping malls was scrapped.
We repeat, projected availability of COVID vaccines, the announced local budget notwithstanding, should not optionally allow us to drop our guard. (AI/MTVN)