By Artchil B. Fernandez
Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 continues its rampage around the country. The surge is still at its crest this week. Record of daily cases of infection is broken on a daily basis.
On Jan 13, 2022, daily cases reached 34,021 the highest recorded at that time only to be broken the following day when the figure climbed to 37,207. But the number was further breached on Jan 15 when 39,004 Filipinos got the virus.
The current surge is not expected to ebb until the end of the month or might persist until the first week of February. Cases of daily infections have started to rise in regions across the country only this week and are yet to peak.
What is notable in this fourth surge of the pandemic is not only the high number of cases but infections are happening among families with several members getting the virus at the same time. Also noted is the high number of children and kids infected with the virus. The only positive aspect of the surge is only a small number of people are in severe and critical condition. But the virus remains deadly.
To stem the tide of widespread infection the government is tightening its vaccination policy. In order to force the unvaccinated to get their shot, a series of directives, edicts, resolutions, and memoranda were issued by government agencies and units to restrict their movement. The unvaccinated are no longer welcome or allowed inside or in the premises of government and private offices, malls, restaurants, recreational areas, schools and many establishments.
The latest policy imposed by the government to further limit the movement of the unvaccinated is “no vaccine, no ride.” Those who refused to be vaccinated are no longer permitted to take public transportation. Air and shipping lines have already towed the government line and now buses, jeepneys, taxis and trains are mandated to follow suit.
It is one thing to encourage people to get vaccinated but it is completely a different matter to force them to take the vaccine. Taking a vaccine is a choice, a decision that the individual alone has to make. If a person refuses to get protected from the pandemic that is his/her choice in the same way that a sick person cannot be forced to take medicine if he/she does not want to.
The problem with Du30 and his administration is their heavy reliance on force as the only way to get things done or solve problems. Force is not the only way to deal with social problems and in many instances, it does not solve the problems but exacerbates them. Take for example the bloody and brutal war against illegal drugs which is the flagship program of Du30. After slaughtering tens of thousands of Filipinos the drug problem is still around.
Force is also the only tool used by Du30 to handle the pandemic with its militarist approach. Now force is again employed to coerce people to get the vaccine. Du30 has never learned his lesson even at the end of his term.
The reluctance of many Filipinos to get vaccinated is the fault of the present administration. Early in its term, the Du30 administration fanned the hysterical but unproven Dengvaxia controversy to score political points and discredit his predecessor. The allegations of Dengvaxia chief inquisitor Persida Acosta were never established scientifically but it damaged public trust and confidence in vaccines. From a high of more than 90 percent public acceptance of vaccines, it plummeted to less than 50 percent. Now, Du30 is reaping the fruit of the lies his administration sow – the refusal of many Filipinos to get the Covid-19 vaccines. To clean up his mess Du30 is once again resorting to force.
Persuasion not coercion or even persecution is the best way to convince unvaccinated Filipinos to get their shots. Using force will only stiffen resistance and strengthen the suspicion of unvaccinated Filipinos on vaccines.
Facts and reality are the best tools of persuasion. Vaccines are proven safe and effective for almost a hundred years. Hospital data show that the vast majority of those being hospitalized in the current surge involving the omicron variant are unvaccinated. The unvaccinated are the ones most vulnerable to get severe and critical Covid-19.
Many unvaccinated Filipinos are usually uninformed or misinformed about the vaccines. Most of them are victims of fake news, conspiracy theories, and lies. The best antidote to anti-vaccine sentiment and thinking is information and scientific facts. Force and coercion will never convince the unvaccinated and could even harden their opposition to vaccination.
The unvaccinated must be made to realize that if they move around they are more likely to get sick of Covid-19 since they have no protection from the virus. They are at greater risk of getting severe Covid-19 and are likely to die. If they persist despite the warning they have no one to blame but themselves for their early demise.
Has the Du30 administration exhausted the persuasion option that it now has to turn to force and coercion to get people vaccinated? Has it addressed the vaccine suspicion and hesitancy it encouraged and promoted with the Dengvaxia controversy?
There are many ways the government can do to persuade and convince the public to get vaccinated. Punishing people for not taking the shot is the worst approach since it only cultivates distrust and suspicion thus fueling resistance to vaccination. Instead of punishment, coercion, persecution, isolation or discrimination why not use incentives and reward to encourage skeptical Filipinos to have themselves protected from the pandemic? (For the record, this writer is fully vaccinated and has already received a booster shot).