How the forged alliance between Go Negosyo and OCTA informed COVID strategies

During a lunch I hosted earlier this week for OCTA Research, whose team has guided us with expert advice on the pandemic, I had the opportunity to chat with Fr. Nic Austriaco ahead of the townhall meeting the next day about the current state of COVID in the Philippines. The topic of the day, of course, was the Omicron variant, what will happen next, and how the situation in the Philippines differs from the US, where he does most of his work as a molecular biologist.

During our conversation, Fr. Nic said that he is “incredibly proud” of how the Philippines has been able to pull off its vaccinations. We are a poor country scrambling for vaccines amidst a pandemic. But thanks to an unprecedented level of cooperation between the government and the private sector, we were able to secure vaccines and get them into people’s arms.

“I brag about the Philippines all the time,” he told me. “The NCR has fully vaccinated 100 percent of its eligible adult population, and this even without a forced mandate!” he said. He compares this to the US, where vaccine hesitancy has solidified into vaccine opposition, and to his frustration, caused many needless deaths.

Those who thumb their noses at the less than 50 percent vaccination rate across the country fail to realize that the 50 percent are in the cities, not spread out. If you examine our VAX to the MAX dashboard, you will appreciate this. Hopefully, this will bring protection also to the barrios surrounding the cities.

Also, and quite unbelievably, there is still criticism over the decision to buy Sinovac, The way I look at it, if we did not have Sinovac when we did, many people would have died. In fact, it was with some degree of luck – or Divine intervention, maybe – that the supplies of Jannsen, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna started arriving in the third and fourth quarter of 2021.

During my conversation with Fr. Nic, he said that the delays in the delivery worked in the country’s favor. He explained that as we were wrapping up our primary vaccinations in the NCR, the countries who were first in line to the vaccines were already experiencing waning immunity, and this was at around the time Delta was rampaging across these countries. And scientists were only beginning to fully understand just how much the vaccines lost their efficacy and when, and how boosters can work.

We profited from that time. Having Sinovac as a primary vaccine, and then getting the vaccines based on the other platforms as boosters, has worked in our favor, again.

I don’t think we give our countrymen enough credit, either. Remember that there are no vaccine mandates yet. No one put a gun to anyone’s head and forced them to go and take a COVID-19 shot. And yet there we were: trying to learn how to register online for appointments, lining up in the wee hours of the morning, putting aside our own fears and taking our shots.

Sure it took some practice before we learned how to put on masks properly, sure there are still some of us who find it hard to stay a meter away from others, and of course there will still be the pasaways who still don’t understand how infections happen. But by and large, we did well, Philippines.

One has to appreciate the tenacity, the determination, the grit it took to for the national government to find the vaccines, convince people to take it, then pull together the LGUs to organize their communities so people can be vaccinated.

We have to tell these uplifting stories because it’s really so easy to, as Fr. Nic put it, “freak out” when you hear about how contagious Omicron is. We all remember the images of people on stretchers waiting to be admitted into the hospital. We all had that traumatic experience.

But things are different now. We have the vaccines, we have the boosters, we know to isolate so we don’t infect others. We need to educate ourselves and others that because we have all these, there is no need to panic when the number of new cases go up. We know that the number to watch is the hospitalization rates. Yes the hospitals might become full but they will not be overwhelmed.

Fr. Nic said that a pandemic is not just a medical or a biological phenomenon, it also has a sociological aspect. We can make the vaccines available and we can have proven antivirals, but the hardest battle is changing people’s mindsets.

I can only hope that we will all be resolute and fight the urge to panic. Panic does not help anyone at this point. It sends the wrong message – especially to the vaccine hesitant - that vaccines don’t work. It paralyzes the economy and makes it impossible for the country to generate enough revenue to pay back the trillions we now owe because of the pandemic. When we realize how far we’ve come, how much we overcame, I think we will be more confident that we will be able to ride this wave and eventually learn to live with COVID in our midst.

Source: Go Negosyo -