That third dose

While first world nations are talking about the third dose or ‘booster’ shots for COVID-19, the sobering truth is a painful one. As of July 16, while 1/4 of the citizens of the world have received at least a dose of COVID-19 vaccine, only 1% of people in low-income countries have received at least a dose.

Based on the data of the Department of Health, as of July 11, the Philippines has more than 3.6M people who are fully vaccinated. That’s roughly around 3.6% of the population or more than 5% of the eligible people who can get vaccinated so far.

It’s not that we’re primarily hesitant at getting vaccinated. While initial surveys before the arrival of vaccines and the second surge showed a larger majority being hesitant to getting a jab, the tides have significantly turned. Many are now willing to get vaccinated but remain wary about side effects. Given the opportunity though, there are more people willing to get their COVID-19 shots than those who don’t. The problem is a matter of supply. We really don’t have enough to go around for now. Hence, the strategy is to address areas that are at highest risk, and then cascade downwards to LGUs that have very few (if at all) COVID-19 cases. With 7,641 islands in this archipelago, rolling out a vaccination program of this magnitude is truly a logistically challenging one.

The great divide in a third world nation like ours is not the availability of the vaccine alone. Equity in access to vaccines is highlighted in the global stage. Poorer nations scramble at vaccines while the richer ones talk about boosters and those extra jabs, as nations that have begun reopening after vaccinating a large majority of their population begin to feel the pinch of having to go back to lockdowns because of variants of concern washing up on their shores.

Our World in Data tracks the vaccine roll out in most of the countries that have been able to vaccinate against COVID-19. The graph below elaborates how wealthier nations are able to jump start way ahead of the rest of the other countries when it comes to vaccine access. Some countries are able to achieve higher vaccination rates because they happen to have smaller populations. Singapore for example has a population of less than 6M – barely 40% of the total population of Mega Manila. Combining the populations of both Singapore and Israel is barely 80% of the population of NCR plus CALABARZON. Aside from the fact therefore, that most of these countries are awash with cash, they have a smaller population to care for during the pandemic.

As the variants evolve, every nation becomes vulnerable to getting reinfections or infections because no vaccine really affords 100% protection. Nevertheless, not all vaccines are created equal and because of that, some nations will need to settle for whatever vaccine is available to them.

Every country is a microcosm of the global picture. While third world nations like ours have more poor people, there is also the elite class comprised of entrepreneurs, businessmen, moguls and a hefty bunch of politicians. A large proportion of the elite are able to access everything better – from the food on the table, to the shot in the arm.

As the pandemic moves closer to the end of the second year since it began in December 2019, some nations that have been able to stave off the impact of this crisis on their economies at the start are now feeling the brunt of surges that disable the healthcare system of nations. With a collapse in the healthcare is a concomitant crumbling of their economies. Resiliency at a time of crisis is tested in how prepared a nation is when they face the worst during a disaster.

With vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 now available, access to it is the challenge. And talk about getting booster doses or a better vaccine as an extra jab are the tattle in social media, mostly prompted by vaccine manufacturers as they sadly take advantage of the pandemic in order to gain headway for profit.

The bottomline is – as of this writing, the jury is still out on whether we will need boosters and whether that third jab will work at addressing additional surges and the variants of concern.

What science does tell us, is that variants evolve during outbreaks and the major driver is a surge. The answer for now is to provide the rest of the world equal access to vaccines, so that the greater majority of their population can be protected. Doing that will minimize the evolution of mutations and variants of interest or concern in the future.

At the end of the day, we realize one thing. It is difficult and arduous to be poor.

Because beggars can’t be choosers.

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