TURNING POINT: Turo-turo COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/ 27 February) — Upon issuance of Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to Sinovac vaccine, the local Food and Drug Administration announced that the vaccine is not appropriate for ages 18 – below and 60 – above. And it was particularly declared that medical frontliners, the number 1 in the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF)  priority sector for vaccination, should be skipped from getting the jab of the said vaccine. The reason for the exclusion is that the vaccine is not the most ideal for them since they are constantly exposed to the threat of the virus.

The declaration, without adequate and clear explanation, jolted many. You can’t help anyone from inferring that Sinovac vaccine is not that reliable to offer healthcare workers safe protection from COVID-19. The street logic persuades that if it is not good for them, then it is not good for me.

Adequate, credible and consistent communication is crucial in gaining the confidence of the public on vital health issues. Its absence or lack of it, further stocks worries and hesitancy as in the case of COVID-19 vaccination. Particularly so that the public trust on COVID-19 vaccine is very much wanting. Already in December 2020, an OCTA survey across the country on the acceptability of vaccination showed that only 19 % of the respondents are willing to get the jab; 35%, undecided and 46% are not going to have it.

Of late, the Department of Health and IATF experts are encouraging frontline health workers to get the jab, arguing that 50 percent protection is 50%, and 50% protection is better than no protection at all, especially if you are exposed to COVID-19 patients.  This, notwithstanding,  healthcare workers are given the option to get a Sinovac jab or wait for another vaccine with greater safety and efficacy records.

Meanwhile, out of the 600,000 doses of the donated Sinovac corona vaccine, 100,000 are earmarked to the troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Initially considered mandatory under the soldiers’ dictum (“Obey first before you complain”), the mandamus to get jabbed sizzled to being optional recognizing, perhaps, the growing opposition to the measure. Soldiers are now, accordingly, free to choose their vaccine outside Sinovac but have to pay for it. This sounds like a soft stick-and-carrot approach to smother refusal to vaccination. The conditionality could not legally occur in the perimeter. Like Sinovac vaccine, all incoming western-made vaccines are under EUA.

It is impossible to buy a vaccine of your choice for nothing so far is registered for commercial use and is available in the market; unless you opt for smuggled vaccine like what the Presidential Security Group, Mon Tulfo and company in the high echelon of the government did. And you might still end up getting a Chinese vaccine for that.

The efficacy and effectiveness of currently available COVID-19 vaccines are publicly known. A situation may yet come when authorities may be compelled to offer a turo-turo or cafeteria type of vaccination, that is, allowing the individual to pick  his choice of vaccine, if only to inoculate a great mass of the population. This might be expensive and logistically demanding. But this could become imperative to attain a vaccine driven herd immunity (70% of the population) from the dreaded coronavirus that will quicken in reviving our economy and in restoring our normal way of life.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines)