BY ROBERT B. ROQUE, JR.
So the world has finally reached the cusp of having a commercialized vaccine for COVID-19. It cannot come soon enough to the Philippines.
Tempering my anticipation for this is a concern that I’ve had in the back of my mind ever since the race for the vaccine began. No, it’s not about whether or not the vaccine would turn out to be effective. I have absolutely no doubt that we would attain this medical holy grail. Human pride and centuries’ worth of collective knowledge and ingenuity won’t allow for this endeavor’s failure.
Also, we’re not just placing all our hopes in just one vaccine. There are nine in the pipeline, including the “big three” vaccines individually developed by Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca. I say the big three because these are the vaccines that boast of upwards of 90 percent effectiveness during Phase 3 trials. Of the trio, Pfizer and Moderna (deemed 95 percent and 94.5 percent effective, respectively) are close to commercialization.
What worries me is the social impact that the uneven distribution of the vaccine would have in the Philippines, a country of 110 million people. And it will be erratic for the first few months, if not years into the vaccines’ availability.
Call me pessimistic, but as brilliant as the human mind is in coming up with the COVID-19 vaccine in record time, some of us simply can’t help but discriminate. Our track record of treating each other harshly based on skin color, gender preference, and thickness of wallet is rather lengthy. We Filipinos aren’t immune to this.
I would be saddened to see a new social divide based on whether or not a person has been immunized from COVID-19. It’s easy to imagine: what would stop commercial establishments, like movie theaters, from putting up signs saying, “immunized patrons only”? How about arcades and amusement parks that are exclusive to immunized customers?
Also, can we blame them? These are the establishments that have practically kept their doors shut since March. Once vaccinations begin locally, the owners can make a case for their businesses to reopen. It’s now safe for them to make a buck.
There will be more practical applications of such segregation, justified or otherwise. Aboard the LRT and MRT, separate coaches for the immunized and non-immunized appear to be a logical move. This will definitely be applied to queuing also. One line of commuters might move faster than the other. Feelings will get hurt; I guarantee you that.
A proof of immunization – whatever physical form that might take – will soon become the essential item in your backpack. It will grant you 2019-level freedoms with 2020-level exclusivity, if only until the vaccine is truly democratized. Until then, life will be rough for the non-immunized for reasons other than the pandemic. Indeed, discrimination is the true scourge of our time.
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