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Yesterday, I was interviewed by Daniela Laurel to expound on the bakuna bubble. She asked for my thoughts as to when would be the perfect time to implement mobility restrictions for unvaccinated individuals. First of all, I believe that there will never be an opportunity for us to just wait for the right time to act given the presence of the highly-infectious Delta variant. Right now, we have to be proactive and start thinking of how to approach this ever-changing situation, but at the same time, we cannot simply let our economy stall in the goal of protecting the public from the virus. If you take a look at the statements of WHO, I think that they do not understand what we are trying to say. Without thinking of any different solution, then it will be harder for us to vaccinate a greater number of people given the current trend in the rising number of cases.
I told her in our recent town hall discussion that both the OCTA research group and Dr. John Wong believe that the minimum percentage of individuals getting vaccinated must actually be higher than 90 percent for us to attain herd immunity, with adjustments from the Delta variant.
In a bakuna bubble, we need to look at families and businesses as micro-groups since they intersect together in terms of interaction and mobility. The goal is to have them fully vaccinated so they have protection from COVID-19. Aside from achieving a hundred percent vaccination of our family members and employees in businesses, each bubble should have their own strict health and safety protocols to enforce, including COVID-19 testing after each family member or employee leaves their own ‘bubble’ to go out to see other people. Similarly, for the entire Philippines to achieve higher vaccination rates, these micro-groups must likewise cooperate in fully vaccinating their members. That mentality must be present in the minds of those in that micro bubble. Restrictions for our employees, and for those who will enter our premises, are forms of strengthening the protection from the bubbles. That is the concept we are trying to implement. However, I agree that this is not a foolproof idea, but still, it can help us convince people to get vaccinated, so that even if breakthrough infections happen, at most, fully-vaccinated individuals will not go straight to hospitals due to severe infections.
I also explained to her that the concept of bakuna bubble encourages families and companies to try, at the very least, to achieve micro-herd immunity at their levels. Our homes are where micro-herd immunity should start. For example, my own bubble is my family: my wife, my children, and our kasambahays, as well as our extended family members. That bubble should aim to achieve 100 percent full vaccination. In workplaces, these are our employees. Hence, these micro-groups are very important. If you fail in attaining complete vaccination at those levels, we will fail to attain countrywide herd immunity.
With this, the transportation sector is conducting a study on how to bridge the gap between homes and workplaces to maintain the protective bubble we are batting for. For us to achieve herd immunity at the national level, small pockets of such protection in various areas, through micro-herd immunity, are prerequisites. With the presence of the Delta variant and its high infection rate, we need to go beyond achieving a 70 percent fully-vaccinated population before we hit the optimum level of herd immunity across the country.
Daniela asked me to specify what restrictions I am proposing for the unvaccinated. I told her that the unvaccinated may still be allowed entry to malls and other areas, but not in high-risk establishments where it is inevitable, for instance, to take off our masks, like in restaurants, spa, and gyms. This is a reasonable limitation to protect everyone.
In fact, data on COVID-19 patients admitted in both the Philippine General Hospital and Makati Medical Center comprise mostly of unvaccinated people. With the intensification of vaccination rollouts, it then supports the idea that all COVID-19 vaccine brands procured by the government are, indeed, effective in preventing serious cases of infections and deaths.
Restricting the mobility of the unvaccinated for the common good must be considered. This is what I shared last Monday during a virtual presser I led which was supported by Prof. Bernie Villegas, one of the framers of our Constitution. He shared that when he was given the chance to be part of the Constitutional Commission, he was the one who introduced the concept of the common good, which restricts certain rights, like freedom of speech, because it is the way each citizen can contribute to the attainment of common good. It is then clear that for a person to get vaccinated is for him to also impart his role in achieving the common good. In fact, those who are saying that the government will be violating their rights by limiting their mobility for the said reason, are actually going against the Constitution by doing so.
We have to look at the totality. Definitely, saving lives is important. We already have the vaccine supply in NCR and we have capable local chief executives who are prudent enough to implement vaccination rollouts. While we have to save lives, we also have to think about how to safely recover the economy. If people go bankrupt, they will not be able to afford medicines and food. We have to stand up in this pandemic and the damage from the Delta variant. If you look at MSMEs, they are the ones that are severely challenged. The big boys, the large corporations: we can take it up to a certain point. We have leeway in terms of working capital. We have equity funded by foreign and local shareholders. But when it comes to our MSMEs, we have to be more considerate in addressing their situation.
I am an entrepreneur and I consider a lot of things. We have to use the vaccinated to drive the economy. Yes, some may get sick still, but in that process, we open the economy as compared to endless reimposition of lockdowns. With that calculated risk, it is very clear that we can move forward at the very least. We cannot do that with the unvaccinated because that is simply throwing the vulnerable into the lion’s den. That is why we want to do this because we do not want the unvaccinated to pile up in the hospitals and have healthcare facilities get flooded. We do not want that scenario. So, that is why we are taking the risk with the vaccinated because we know that they are protected. That is how we want people to think. For everything we do, there is a consequence, and it can be devastating or not. In the case of letting the vaccinated outside, we know that they have protection. The economy can then start moving. Our entrepreneurs will recover. People will not go hungry. The government will have income to generate the needed funds for its COVID-19 response. You have to connect lives and economy together. You cannot just favor one over another because both are needed at the same time. You want to save both to the best that you can.
If you take a look at MSMEs, they rely on microfinancing, rural banks, and other institutions, which are similarly getting crippled right now since the money they lent is not being paid by those who borrowed. It is a vicious cycle. We cannot lose on both sides. It is better to bite the bullet than not try the said measure at all. We have to find ways of co-existing with COVID-19 since all of us have already accepted that this will be with us for quite some time. To survive, we have to learn to live with the virus. With the help of less vulnerable, fully-vaccinated Filipinos, we can finally take the most decisive, calculated risk.