Monday, September 20

The waiting game: Thomasians outside Metro Manila still seeking access to COVID-19 jabs

Art by Tcheky Cabrera

THE UNIVERSITY of Santo Tomas (UST) has become one of  Manila’s vaccination sites, giving Thomasians and their familiesManileño or notaccess to what everyone hopes will end the pandemic.

But for students residing in the province, the means to travel and the quarantine protocols in the Philippine capital pose a problem. This leaves Thomasians far from school with no choice but to play the waiting game. 

Among them is Maxine Rae Joaquin, a third year communication arts student from Ilocos Norte who remains unvaccinated since her local government is still administering jabs to the priority groups. 

Because of the limited vaccine supply, the government prioritized health workers, senior citizens, persons with comorbidities, essential workers, and the indigent population, sectors that are more vulnerable to COVID-19.  

Joaquin said the number of people who want to be inoculated in her province does not match the numbers of existing vaccination sites.

“There are limited resources and there’s a small number of healthcare workers that can serve at the vaccination sites.” Joaquin told The Flame

Iisa lang rin [ang] site sa municipality namin and naghihintay talaga sila ng vaccines from the provincial government (Our municipality only has one vaccination site and is waiting for vaccines from the provincial government).” 

Disorganized?

More than 4,500 vaccination sites are already operating nationwide but several provinces, particularly in the Visayas and Mindanao, reportedly experienced vaccine shortages last July.

While her province is located in northern Luzon, Joaquin said there were complaints about the disruptions in the jab distribution. She said the drive vaccination drive in her town was organized until there was an uptick in COVID-19 infections. 

“During the recent roll out, ang dami raw tao sa site. Kahit yung mga wala raw sa listahan, nandun na. So gumulo yung system nila (During the recent roll out, there were many people on site including those who are not listed so the system was interrupted.),” the communication arts student said. 

A creative writing student from Ilocos Norte who requested anonymity claimed there were irregularities that contributed to the slow vaccine roll-out in the province, including the giving of special treatment to those who are not in the priority list.   

“Not enough transparency has been given to the people here in our province,” the student said.

NCR and others?

The government is prioritizing “economic hubs” in the vaccination program to reopen the economy and to allow more people to work safely. It has identified Metro Manila, Bulacan, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Pampanga, Rizal, Metro Cebu, and Metro Davao – collectively known as National Capital Region plus eight – as priority vaccination areas.

Because of the rising number of cases in other areas, ten cities have been added to the priority list namely Baguio, Tuguegarao, Naga, Legazpi, Bacolod, Iloilo, Dumaguete, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, and General Santos. 

However, there have been persistent appeals by local authorities to send more jabs to the provinces because of the rapid rise in infections in places outside the capital region. 

Asst. Prof. Frederick I. Rey of the UST sociology and political science departments said the “superiority” of Manila over other areas was manifested in the vaccine distribution.

He pointed out that Metro Manila was already experiencing a certain degree of normalcy until the Delta variant came. However, the administering of jabs in some provinces has yet to start then.  

Conversely, Anthony Leachon, former special adviser to the government’s pandemic task force, said distributing the limited supply to several areas could weaken the herd immunity in the National Capital Region (NCR) plus, a collective term for Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, LagUna and Cavite. He added that there are no cold chain infrastructures in the countryside, a loophole that could result in vaccine wastage. 

Christine Joyce Paras, a fourth year Journalism student from Iligan City, said concentrating vaccine supplies in the NCR plus has its advantages. 

“[I] think it’s practical that most of the supplies are in NCR plus due to its massive population,” she said.

Czar Gabriel Dela Cruz, a third year political science major from Angeles City, Pampanga said he used to back the idea of prioritizing the attainment of herd immunity in the NCR plus. He now views it as a band-aid solution because of the significant increase in the number of infections in the provinces. 

“[I]t’s too late for [the NCR plus herd immunity], [because] borders are opened, the virus is now basically everywhere, people aren’t scared anymore, provinces are the new epicenter of the virus,” dela Cruz said. 

‘Provinces are neglected’

Until the country’s vaccine supply stabilizes, students outside Metro Manila will have to wait and make do with available health facilities in their respective areas.  

The creative writing student complained about supposed delays in the giving of second doses and the alleged favorable treatment given to people who are close to local officials. 

Dela Cruz, who had contracted COVID-19 twice, said he was dismayed by what he described as the faulty contact tracing and logistics in his province. Contact quarantine facilities are also hard to contact, forcing his family to get tested and recuperate in Quezon City. 

“I know for a fact that the provinces are somehow neglected, because my family is forced to stay in Quezon City for a while to be accommodated,” dela Cruz said. 

The Philippines has received more than 40 million doses of COVID-19 jabs and is expecting the delivery of about 50 million doses by the end of the month.  

About 17% of the country’s eligible population and 11% of its total population have been inoculated for COVID-19 as of last week. The government aims to vaccinate at least 50 million people this year. 

Despite complaints about the way some local governments administer vaccines, officials are optimistic that half of Metro Manila’s eligible population will be jabbed by Aug. 31. — Eduardo Fajermo and Hannah Beatrisse Oledan  

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