As we end 2021, what’s the real score with the Philippines’ pandemic response? Are things really as dire as it seems – or are we actually doing well?
It’s hard to sift through the different news that we see on mainstream media. It’s always been a mixture of good and bad. But if you really take the time to go through all the updates, you’ll see a pattern emerge. Yes, the pandemic is still very real and is still a cause for concern. However, all our efforts to cope with COVID-19 have been paying off, and we are definitely on the right path.
From “Pandemic” to “Endemic”
The first indication? The World Health Organization (WHO) actually recommending that the PH gov’t shift its response from “pandemic” to “endemic“. What’s the difference?
“Endemic” means that it’s a condition that is “usual” or “typical” in an area or group of people. This is actually a good thing. Endemic doesn’t mean that it will disappear completely, but that we’re starting to learn to live with it. This means that we’re coming to a point where the effects of the virus is less severe, and that we’re seeing less transmissions overall.
According to Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III, the shift of the Philippines’ pandemic response to an endemic plan constitutes twin goals. Firstly, focus must be placed on ensuring that we do not breach the “red line”, or 70% of the health care system capacity. Secondly, we must protect the vulnerable groups, including senior citizens and those with co-morbidities.
What caused this shift in response? The most likely culprit is the ramping up of the country’s vaccination drive.
Almost Half of the Total PH Population is Already Vaccinated
Vaccines work. That is the undeniable fact. And although we still have plenty of work to do to achieve “herd immunity”, the numbers are starting to get there.
As of December 29, there are a total 106,290,941 vaccine doses administered, with 47,860,944 Filipinos fully vaccinated. This amounts to 44.27% of the Filipino population vaccinated against COVID-19.
It’s clear that vaccination is at the cornerstone of the Philippines’ pandemic response. We even vaccinated 7.6 million people in just three days just this December. And vaccines from brands such as AstraZenica, Moderna, and Pfizer still continue to arrive in the Philippines.
These are a mixture of donations and purchases. As the DOH stressed, brands don’t really matter – the important thing is to get vaccinated. However, it’s interesting to note that we’ve actually purchased more Western brands of vaccines compared to Chinese ones. This isn’t an indication that Western is better. Instead, it’s an indication that the PH gov’t is getting their hands on as much vaccines as they can.
Things are Looking Up
The results are clear, as things are starting to look up. Nearing the end of the year, the capital region has been officially classified as “low risk” – a very different situation from just a few months ago. In fact, 94% of Metro Manila’s target population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Other regions are catching up, through the DOH’s “Bayanihan Bakunahan” drive aimed to push vaccinations nationwide. From a very bleak outlook at the tail end of 2020, our healthcare system is starting to achieve balance.
For the DOH, despite the shortcomings of our healthcare system that were evident at the start of the pandemic, they are still able to continue to address concerns on other diseases that are prevalent in the country. All of this on top of dealing with a global pandemic.
The greatest indication of this is the breathing room achieved by our healthcare system. The Philippine General Hospital (PGH) even reported no COVID-19 admissions for 2 days at the start of the month. The number of severe cases have been on a decline, as the vaccination rate continues to go up.
No Need to Worry, but Remain Vigilant
It’s hard to see the silver lining at times, as pandemic news is sensationalist by nature. The new Omicron variant is definitely a cause for concern, with 2021 ending on a bit of a sour note as Metro Manila returns to Alert Level 3. However, the DOH stresses that the we are well-equipped to deal with this new variant.
Despite this, we must still remain vigilant. We must still do our part. Don’t forget the basics of handwashing and social distancing. Get vaccinated if you haven’t yet. Get boosters if you’re already fully vaccinated. And although everything has already opened up, it is still wise to avoid crowded places, especially for those with comorbidities.
The fact is that everything is set into place, and the Philippines’ pandemic response has ramped up to a point that we do not need to worry anymore – as long as we all do our part.