"The best vaccine is the one that is immediately available to you."
Last Sunday, I got my first dose of the CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine by Sinovac. I got this free of charge from the Quezon City government as I’m classified as an A3 resident. On top of being a person with a disability, I have three chronic illnesses that count as comorbidities according to the Department of Health, so I jumped at the chance to protect myself and my family.
Grappling with the double-edged sword that is being medically vulnerable at the same time being privileged enough to have consistent access to information that allowed me to register and get the vaccine in the first place, I spent the hours after getting the first shot reading as much as I could about vaccination in general.
The most important thing I kept coming across is this: The best vaccine is the one that is immediately available to you. Efficacy levels might give you the impression that you should wait for one over another, and for good reason — we’re of course biased towards anything approaching 100 percent. Remember, however, that efficacy levels are drawn from what happened during the clinical trials, where, as with anything, many circumstantial factors affect the sample population contracting (or not contracting) COVID-19, such as timing and geographical location.
Simply put, you can’t perfectly compare vaccines. Pfizer’s 95-percent efficacy rate, for example, was drawn from testing in the United States during the summer. Johnson and Johnson’s 66 percent came from trials that also took place in Brazil and South Africa, where there are different, more transmissible variants, later into this pandemic.
I could go on, but if you’re taking away one thing with all the politically charged messaging and therefore hesitation that Sinovac stirs in us, take away that like all of the vaccines being distributed, its trials also show that it prevented, 100 percent, hospitalization and death among its sample population.
Second: Side effects are normal. As I write this piece 24 hours in, I’m experiencing chills, a bit of brain fog and my left arm is completely sore. Some people have reported fever and other flu-like symptoms. Others have intense headaches and fatigue that prevent them from reporting to work the next day. I read somewhere that we should normalize feeling these symptoms, in fact even make an effort toward broadcasting them to the public, so they know what to expect. A lot of people are scared enough as it is to get the vaccine in the first place, what more if they feel alone in the symptoms right after.
Lastly, the more people are vaccinated, the better for everyone. While getting the vaccine doesn’t exempt you completely from contracting the coronavirus, doing so helps de-fang it — by again, preventing the more moderate and severe stages of the disease, which statistically affect lower-income and already marginalized groups the most.
I spent the hours after getting the shot responding to inquiries from friends and colleagues. A lot of them did not even know registration was already open for seniors and people with comorbidities within and outside our city. This not only poses a communication problem but also signifies an issue on access.
It is our civic duty to get it as soon as possible, once legally available to our categories. However, our governments have the responsibility to ensure vaccines are free and readily available to everyone. Ensuring vaccines are procured at a fair cost and distributed across all sectors efficiently is in fact the minimum. Politicians shouldn’t capitalize on this opportunity for their own personal gain, as vaccinating the public during a pandemic is the most obvious response and the first step toward a genuine just recovery. We deserve this and more.
A vaccine is a public good. Governments that allow or turn a blind eye to monopolization, companies hiking up the prices, and local units that don’t bat an eyelash at how inefficient and unequal distribution processes are should all be held accountable for jeopardizing all efforts made fighting not only this pandemic but all the structural inequalities it laid bare in its wake.
In the meantime, as we fight for leaders and systemic changes that we deserve, we should also make the most out of mutual aid networks, solidarity with affected groups, and community care. We need to step up and organize alongside each other through and outside social media to ensure information and registration drives actually reach groups who need it the most. Some have started helping neighbors who are senior citizens by offering to register on their behalf online. Others continue to show up by sharing mental health resources. Groups here and abroad offer legal as well as financial assistance as we navigate through this difficult time for workers.
It might take a while before we vaccinate enough people to achieve herd immunity. We have to prepare for that reality and continue to protect ourselves by following minimum health protocols. However, continuing to care for our communities and collectively demanding a just recovery from this pandemic might just be the slivers of light we need to take us through another day.
Beatrice Tulagan, 26, is a writer and climate justice organizer.