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For the past few days, our team has been tirelessly working to galvanize the private sector through various initiatives from webinars, townhalls, and other measures to ensure the smooth execution of the vaccination once the vaccines arrive. Just this Tuesday, I had an interview with Karen Davila on ANC Headstart, where I shared the various developments of the private sector effort on the vaccines. I told Karen that there was some delay with the first batches of the vaccines from AstraZeneca. Initially scheduled this June, AstraZeneca assured the arrival of the 1.17 million doses this July, and another 1.17 million doses in August.
I’ve also shared with Karen my recent conversation with Sec. Galvez, during which he said that they would return the donations from the private sector. Back then, we had requested the government if we could back-end our donations to January and February, which they approved. But now those vaccines have been returned to us by the national government. We can use the returned vaccines for our employees, their dependents, as donations to LGUs that need it, and for later, we could use it as a booster shot for our employees.
I also shared this development with Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chairman Benhur Abalos. I told Benhur that the control of the vaccines is now back with the companies, but we are still willing to wait and assist the government should they need the vaccines we allocated to them.
On the pressing topic, Karen and I discussed the expanded inoculation program for the A4 priority sector. Here, I explained the economic impact of an expanded inoculation and how it can rally the country to a great fourth quarter—towards a merry Christmas and a great new year in 2022.
A4 category is the biggest, it is composed of essential workers from both the public and the private sector. This is a very huge population—estimated at 35.5 million workers. This has been our call ever since to consider in the prioritization our economic sector, the economic frontliners. I added that the focus of the private sector is to help NCR plus, as our working strategy right now is to focus the vaccines on where the highest level of infection is and that is in the NCR plus area.
In that interview, I shared that “you don’t spread all your bullets all over, you try to focus it and the goal is to try to achieve 70 percent of NCR plus by the end of the year. It may be a challenge, but it’s a good fighting target. At the very worst case, even 50 percent will already do wonders for our economy.”
In fact, this was the main topic of our meeting with OCTA Research Group, together with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI). In that meeting with OCTA and PCCI, we saw how aligned we were in terms of our projections for the country and how we can achieve those projections. Firstly, a ramped-up vaccination drive is needed to attain at least population protection. As data from Israel and the United States show, vaccinating 40 to 50 percent of the population already shows dramatic changes. Around this range, the economy can already be opened while expecting a continuous significant drop in the cases.
We agreed that in achieving population protection, greater mobility and access must be given to the vaccinated population. This is where our current Bakuna Card given by the LGUs could come in handy. This Bakuna Card can serve as our pass in malls that will only allow vaccinated people to come in, or to restaurants or other establishments, that offer discounts to vaccinated individuals.
Together with the OCTA group and PCCI, we agreed that population protection should lead to more streamlined travel protocols for the vaccinated, reduced quarantine requirements, and other incentives. There must be a takeaway in getting vaccinated, but as I always argue, saving yourself from death or severe symptoms is the greatest takeaway in getting vaccinated.
Some argue that this might be discriminatory, but it’s not. As I told Karen, “you’ve seen in America, you look at the NBA games, they segregate the vaccinated and the unvaccinated in some arenas. So granting mobility to those vaccinated is not discriminatory, every Filipino has the right to choose, but if they refuse to be vaccinated, then their movement should be restricted and limited; those who have been vaccinated, you have to grant them more movement, more access to different areas, more access to different tourist spots, in this way, we can revive the tourism sector which has been greatly affected by the pandemic.”
So I am really asking the help of our Filipino citizens, the vaccine is our most important weapon against COVID-19. As we can see in India, their level of infection is really high. But when they started to launch their vaccination drive, it is now under control. We have to achieve at least population protection in NCR plus as we really want to open the economy. Both the public and the private sector are ready. I believe that we, the private sector and the LGUs, will really step up in the inoculation of our employees. We are ready, everybody’s ready.
We cannot open and close our economy anymore. We cannot have a car that’s running and then stopping constantly. We now have to turn that around and the best opportunity to turn that around is the last quarter, with Christmas and election spending. We have been taking two steps forwards by opening the economy, but one step backward by closing it again. Every Filipino who gets vaccinated will ensure that we are all forward from here and that we can expect more economic activity to happen. We can reopen the economy and look forward to a promising fourth quarter—every Filipino to have a merry Christmas and an auspicious start to a new year in 2022.