By Maria Angela M. Villa
The advent of COVID-19 vaccines has created excitement. It engulfs everyone. Finally, after months of waiting while we put up our best defenses to protect the Filipinos, we are given a new opportunity to further our step towards vanquishing the pandemic. But it is not without formidable hurdles.
We see LGU (local government unit) after LGU announcing their plans to procure vaccines for their constituents. Foray through the jungle of social media and a barrage of information threatens to overload an already COVIDized, desensitized public. We are reprimanded for being “choosy” over vaccine brands, yet the government parades one that still has to secure an emergency utilization authority (EUA).
Concerns even among healthcare workers may hound the trust in vaccines, notably for a nation reeling from the Dengvaxia aftermath. This can take form initially as hesitation progressing to downright refusal to be vaccinated. Misinformation, ever present since the start of the pandemic, thickens the plot and aggravates the dissonance that has manifested in what the government says and what the public perceives.
As healthcare workers sworn to primum non nocere, first do no harm to our patients, we are only right and duty-bound to elevate the Filipino people’s health and safety as top priority. The Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC), the 160 member societies of different healthcare workers who called for a time out last August 2020, has promised to do just that: Protect the processes with which these vaccines are authorized to be given to millions of Filipinos.
HPAAC explains the phases of vaccine trials, the pertinent government agencies and expert groups tasked to evaluate its safety, effectiveness and cost efficiency while addressing significant conflicts of interest. HPAAC emphasizes that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) are the two agencies recognized by law to assess and evaluate candidate vaccines and authorize them for public roll out.
Sifting through the noise of misinformation and its wake of dissonance, the country’s largest coalition of healthcare workers manifests its role to be monitors or watchdogs to ensure that the key message is heard and followed. Our key message is that the core values and processes are observed and protected in the vaccination program. Dr. Antonio Dans, one of HPAAC’s active leaders says, “People must have access as soon as possible to a safe and effective vaccine regardless of race, religion, or ability to pay. Distribution must be equitable and not become a battle of purchasing power.”
Though vaccines against COVID-19 are a huge and significant development in our quest to end this pandemic, it is important to remember that it is not the silver bullet solving the crisis immediately. The virus is not the only enemy here, and we must hurdle through system challenges in order to mount a sufficient and robust immunity for all Filipinos.
We still need to practice the minimum preventive health standards APAT DAPAT. APAT DAPAT stands for: 1) Air circulation; 2) Physical distancing of one meter or more; 3) Always wear face masks and face shields; AND 4) Time of interactions less than 30 minutes. With or without the vaccines, APAT DAPAT preventive measures must be observed. These are the measures we constantly remind ourselves to observe as accountable and responsible Filipino citizens.
Achieving immunity for our people is not just a whole-of-government strategy. The objective, the strategy, the plan, and the implementation involve the whole of society. Having public trust is thus a sine qua non for sufficient and robust immunity.
Maria Angela M. Villa is the past president of Philippine General Hospital – Physicians’ Association and is a leading member of the Health Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC). Her views in this column reflect the position of HPAAC.