Why the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the Philippines is like a typical Manila rush hour experience

Watching how the COVID-19 vaccine comes available to the Filipino public in recent days reminds me of the state of public transport in the Philippines. The service is inconsistent and unpredictable — all madness and very little semblance of method. Like the variety of buses, jeepneys, and all sorts of mechanical contraptions that clunk along into the line-of-sight of commuters waiting to climb over one another for a ride, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in dribs and drabs — even managed at the town or municipal hall level — originating from a variety of suppliers and donors and branded in a variety of acronyms and pharma badges keep the public on edge. Because there is no scheduled arrival, trusting a queue does not make sense to the average Filipino — whether as a commuter or as a COVID-19 jab candidate.

If you’ve experienced waiting for a train or bus in an advanced country, you’d see the big difference. At a train platform or bus stop in, say, Tokyo, you could read a book or play with your phone pretty much assured that the service will arrive to schedule. Knowledge that all are in train to schedule gives you the confidence to keep your place in the queue (where there is one) and trust that others will do the same. You trust the system and this trust is reflected in the behaviour of the community while waiting. In the Philippines, it is very different. There is no system and, therefore, no schedule to the delivery of any service, and so Filipinos are always on the alert for an opportunity to jump queue and put one over the other. Classy, right?

The way the COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out and the way Filipinos are behaving like the proverbial crablettes climbing on top of one another at every one of the slightest hints of a pharmaceutical morsel in the horizon is a tragically all-too-familiar sight and collective behaviour dynamic. We see it in rush-hour commuters and we see it today in the COVID-19 jab rollout.

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“Activists” and Opposition “thought leaders” as well as their henchmen in Big Corporate Media commenting and shrieking over the minutiae of the “issue” of COVID-19 vaccine availability are pretty much useless then — because they provide insight and perspective no better than the average schmoe in this mad scramble for government services. Rather than step back and see the systemic roots of this dysfunction and exhibit an ability to connect the dots at a macro cultural level just shows why nothing much changes in Philippine society.

Like the Philippines’ decrepit public transport network — World War II era jeepneys, reconditioned buses, and home-made tricycles and pedicabs serving as backbones of the country’s transport network — delivery of products that are critical in this time of pandemic ultimately originate from afterthought leftovers from the global effort — the pharmaceutical equivalent of pagpag. Perhaps Filipinos, long accustomed to a crab-like approach to accessing stuff and the mediocre stuff they get for that effort don’t really know what they are missing overall.

Is the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte responsible for this sustained dysfunction? Perhaps it is. Then again, who cares? Really, Duterte and other presidents and the governments they led before him all presided over similar situations. The common denominators are evident and shine through regardless of government. It comes down to Filipinos’ aversion to doing things properly and systematically. This jeepney-style rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is no exception to that sad rule.

2 Replies to “Why the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the Philippines is like a typical Manila rush hour experience”

  1. I am not numb to the fact that our government dropped lots of “balls” when it came to coordinating vaccine orders and their EUAs.

    However, the traffic jam analogy for how the vaccine is “trickling” in is an external factor from the government. That’s because the bulk of the vaccines being manufactured are spoken for by the richer Western nations. Basically they called dibs and the WHOs pleas for these richer countries to share the capacity with other nations is falling on deaf ears.

    Will rich or powerful individuals jump the queue/line? Most definitely. That happens everywhere. It is human nature. Argentina is already suffering the fallout for the actions of the few for selfish reasons that did not comply with the guidelines for their rollout.

    Could more vaccines have been ordered? I believe so. Could all the vaccines we needed be ordered within 2021 period? I don’t think it is even remotely possible because of what is mentioned above.

    With J&J’s recent approval EUA in the USA… I do believe they get dibs on the bulk of the manufacturing capacity on that as well.

    So what’s left? Sinovac, Sinopharm, Sputnik and the vaccine developed from India.

    If reports are true, manufacturing of India’s vaccine will really only peak maybe earliest 2022. 2021 is hopeful. So, ordering bulk from them might be a dream right now.

    Sinovac, Sinopharm and Sputnik. Assuming all 3 of those have EUAs already, do you even think the pro-western branded in the Philippines would touch them with a ten foot pole? Sinovac’s narrative of efficacy is being twisted already even before the EUA. Even when you have doctors on record telling the media they are incorrect, the next day, another host says the same incorrect statement about a blanket 50% efficacy only. The hosts themselves do not care to dig deeper to correct themselves to help educate and inform already.

    I am immunocompromised now. At this point in time, I do not have enough info of what the vaccines effects are for a person like myself so I have to be wary. But if I wasn’t, I would not be averse to taking Sinovac if it was offered to me given the technology behind is an inactivated virus which is similar to the vaccines I used to take growing up.

  2. We climb over one another, to get first in any situation…this is the Filipino way.

    Pfizer vaccine, I think, is better than all the vaccines…I am not endorsing the vaccine…just get vaccinated…

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