WHEN the announcement came through that the A4 category (“frontline personnel in essential sectors including uniformed personnel”) of vaccinees will take its turn at the needle, I told myself – being in the A4 group when I checked my QR code – that finally there is hope that I might join the multitude of Filipinos who would be given a chance at surviving this pandemic through the benefit of protection offered by a medicine in a tiny vial.
I joined the multitude, alright. But the multitude who were at the queue on the first day and then again, the second; where I, too, was among the tired, cold, and bladder-holding citizens who got cut off the line twice because the limit of allocated number of first doses on both days had already been reached.
I was at the tail-end of the line at 6:00 a.m. on the first day. I resolved to make it through on the second day. Thinking mistakenly that the surge might have taken place only on the first day, I could no longer find the tail-end of the queue at 5:00 a.m. the following day.
There is nothing that can be said here that has not been mentioned earlier by citizens on social media. All I could do was validate their experiences and perceptions from that experience. If I fared better the first day because I was staring at the backs of at least thirty people at the queue before I was cut off, the line behind me was certainly long and backed up all the way to where I started.
If I overestimated my chances for the next day, the number of people that were turned away on the first day came back on the second day with more people lengthening the line three or four times over. With people lining up as early as 2:00 a.m., exposed to the elements and relentless rain that got worse overnight, you will surely have frayed nerves and tempers flaring. As I was looking for the tail end of the line on day two, I knew people were eyeing me with suspicion as if I had the intention of cutting-in, prompting some to blow me off saying the end of the line is “not here” but somewhere else.
“Somewhere else.” That in itself is deflating: The idea that you cannot even find where the line begins three hours before vaccination starts. Looking at the mass of humanity that have sprouted at the vaccine sites overnight, I could not help but describe the scene as dystopian. Okay, sure. You can accuse me of using the “Hunger Games” analogy too often and to the point of exaggeration, but I simply cannot settle into a mindset that many of us in the city of Baguio have suddenly realized the benefits of vaccination, so that now there are more of us who are “willing,” rather than “unwilling,” to be vaccinated and that explains the surge.
Of course we are willing. We have been willing since the beginning of the vaccine rollout. It is just that the A4 category has been added into the A1 to A5 mix which jacked up the numbers considerably and now you have bedlam and mayhem combined because supplies are sorely limited, and it arrives in trickles. I have never lived a war but looking at the vaccine queue it was unsettling for me at least, to imagine a wartime scenario or even a post-holocaust environment where devastated people line up for food with whatever containers they can get their hands on.
But who is to say that we are not at war? Early on in this pandemic, no less than government authorities have liberally used the line “we are at war with an unseen enemy” to characterize the collective effort to confront this “clear and present danger” to public health. While it is acknowledged that the dearth in the supply of life-saving vaccines is true in most developing nations (the Philippines included), what allocations that may be available should not end up in a winner-take-all scenario. Standing in line at 2:00 a.m., in the cold and under the pouring rain just to make the cutoff; and then endure the seven-hour wait for the life-saving dose is not justified however some of us might have the physical capacity to withstand these challenging circumstances.
The city government has since adjusted the distribution strategy to remedy the chaos that the first two days has wrought with the inclusion of A4 first dosers. The “first come, first serve” scheme apparently works only if you are lining up for “Grandma’s Original, Authentic and Standard Home-baked Apple Pie,” but not for life-giving essentials like the vaccine. Thus, the barangay is now given the prerogative to distribute vaccine stubs to its residents based presumably on allocated doses on a given day, even as the vaccine sites have been designated for specific categories of recipients.
That resolved the surge somewhat, but not the contentious situation that the barangays now have to deal with, such as accusations of currying favors (palakasan). I am not being difficult here. After all, we should always give room for the system to work especially when confronted with unfamiliar situations. On the other hand, we should also know that systems are liable to abuse, or open to challenges, or questions at the very least.
Speaking of questions, and to avoid the tensions and suspicions that may arise at the barangay level, does not the city government database have the capacity to generate random selections per category then communicate this with the individual (through text messages) who will then confirm his or her appearance at an appointed schedule? All of these while supplies are still limited. Again, this may not be entirely free from possible abuse and corruption, but to preclude its occurrence, witnesses may be invited during the selection process similar to a lottery draw.
I understand this process is too complex and could be seen as slowing down the vaccination process further which will affect the city’s vaccination record. By extension, it will also stall whatever plans the city is contemplating for “reopening” in the foreseeable future. But what is the alternative? Certainly you will not just throw crumbs into the fray and let all and sundry pounce on it like sharks on a feeding frenzy.