By Dr. Rex Casiple
In COVID-19 vaccine rollouts around the world in the first quarter of the year 2021, the Asian countries fell behind the West in the race towards herd immunity. The Philippines had been badly affected by the COVID-19 virus and has the second-highest rate of cases in Southeast Asia in March 2021.
President Rodrigo Duterte pronounced a “no vaccine, no class” policy in schools. The vaccination program in the country started in March 2021. Hence twenty-four (24) higher education institutions (HEIs) nationwide were allowed to hold limited face-to-face classes effective the 2nd Semester of AY 2020-2021. They were allowed to bring their 3rd and 4th-year students for hands-on training and laboratory classes in a limited face-to-face system. Selected health-related degree programs given priority to conduct face-to-face classes were Medicine, Nursing, Medical Technology/Medical Laboratory Science, Physical Therapy, Midwifery, and Public Health. Limited face-to-face classes were not mandatory.
The national vaccination program that started in March 2021 was the sign of the country’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The program started with the availability of Sinovac’s Vaccine from China. Another sign of the country’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic was the gradual reopening of colleges and universities for limited face-to-face classes. Some colleges and universities in the country from Western Visayas Region were initially allowed to conduct limited face-to-face classes beginning the second semester of academic year (AY) 2020-2021 were West Visayas State University, Central Philippine University, University of Iloilo-PHINMA and Iloilo Doctors’ College of Medicine. Seventeen (17) higher education institutions (HEIs) in the country with retrofitted facilities and have safe spaces offered their facilities to serve as vaccination sites of local government units (LGUs). Two (2) of these HEIs from the Western Visayas Region were the West Visayas State University and Central Philippine University.
The vaccination program in the country prioritized frontline workers in health facilities (A1), senior citizens (A2), persons with comorbidities (A3) and higher education institutions (HEI) frontline personnel (A4). Other groups in the priority line were the indigent population (A5), teachers and social workers (B1), other government workers (B2), other essential workers (B3), socio-demographic groups at significantly higher risk other than senior citizens and indigent people (B4), Overseas Filipino Workers (B5), other remaining workforce (B6) and rest of the Filipino population not otherwise included in the above groups (C).
The community pantry was a notable phenomenon that suddenly struck the nation in April 2021. This while millions of Filipinos were waiting for the COVID-19 vaccines and experiencing a series of lockdowns in the different parts of the country. Many poor Filipino families were suffering from hunger or nothing to eat due to a series of lockdowns in which many lost their jobs that disabled them to feed their families.
Many believed that these difficulties in life can be overcome by sharing and coming together. In some provinces in the country “community pantry for education” was done by other schools. One school in Siniloan, Laguna was distributing free schools supplies given by Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) like ballpen, pencil, ruler, eraser, envelop and notebook. The school was also distributing free face masks.
The school was also rendering free printing and photocopying. In the spirit of community pantry, the group was accepting school supplies donations from those who are willing to give, such, pencil, paper, notebook, eraser, etc. This was to help the poor students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This modern Bayanihan Spirit, known as Community Pantry, has fed more than 5,000 people. The mushrooming of community pantries across the country was a nationwide miracle.
(To be continued)