On Sunday (April 18), Israelis were finally allowed to go out without covering up their faces with masks – something the rest of the world hasn’t been fortunate enough to do yet. 

The rescinding of mask requirements came on the same day – announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu- in conjunction with the opening of the country’s economy.

“We are leading the world right now when it comes to emerging from the coronavirus,” Netanyahu declared. 

Israel’s strides in containing the COVID-19 health crisis can be largely attributed to its vaccination efforts. The middle-eastern nation has vaccinated at least 54% of its 9 million population, which equals 5.3 million people. 

Currently, Israel tops the rankings when it comes to inoculation. The country has managed to administer 119 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine per 100 people, which means most have been vaccinated once. 

The majority of those already inoculated received the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, which supposedly has 90% efficacy in a real-world setting as studies suggest. 

According to Israel’s Health Ministry, the country’s COVID-19 infection rate has been reduced by 95.8% due to vaccination efforts.

What’s going on in the Philippines?

In the Philippines, the national government is now in the second month of its vaccination program – with inoculation starting early last March.

The government’s vaccination drive was spearheaded by the National Task Force Against Covid19 (NTF) with chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez Jr. at the helm. So far, the Duterte government has managed to administer 1,255,716 doses of the vaccine to its initial target group – the health workers – who number 1.7 million in total. 

Due to its significant progress, the administration has moved forward with vaccinating the A4 bracket – composed of essential workers. The plan has been approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Thursday last week.

When it comes to vaccine-specifics, the Philippines’ principal rollout made use of China’s Sinovac jab predominantly. The country has received 2.5 million doses of the shot so far – both purchased and donated. Meanwhile, the country also acquired 525, 600 doses of the AstraZeneca jab through the COVAX facility. 

Vaccine deals with Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Gamaleya, Moderna, and Novavax have also been inked – with arrivals set to mid-2021.

Although things seem to be looking up for the country when it comes to vaccination, Pulse Asia’s latest survey of Filipinos and vaccines paints a different picture. 

According to Pulse Asia’s survey – conducted February 22 to March 3 this year – out of the 2,400 participants, 61% are not willing to get vaccinated – that’s 6 out of 10 Filipinos. 

The survey also highlighted high percentages of concern regarding the jabs being used for the country’s vaccination program, specifically Sinovac. Out of all those surveyed, 63% said they do not trust shots sourced from China – and 84% of that population say they are uncertain about the vaccine’s safety. 

The situation could further intensify after the Department of Health (DOH), suspended the use of the government’s other available vaccine – AstraZeneca. 

On April 8, the department imposed a temporary ban on the delivery of the shots to people below 60 years of age – after news of the vaccine’s link to blood clots emerged. 

The government health agency assured the public that blood clotting is a rare side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine. And according to UK health experts, the chances of developing this is one in four million – stressing the risk of death from COVID-19 is still significantly higher. 

What’s happening now? 

Due to increasing public concern over the issue of vaccine side-effects, the DOH has called out media institutions for publishing ‘disinformation’ on COVID-19 vaccines. 

In a joint statement with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) on April 16, the department urged media companies to ‘exercise caution when it comes to reporting potentially misleading information about vaccines.’

“We appeal primarily to our media partners to exercise caution when reporting potentially misleading information about COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines are safe and vaccines are effective and we all know this. Let us work together to help Filipinos better understand the benefits of vaccines. In times of crisis, vaccines can spell the difference between life and death,” DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said. 

In conjunction with this plea, the department has released new vaccination guidelines – accompanying it with supplementing information – to further encourage Filipinos to get vaccinated. 

Countdown to a mask-less Philippines

The Philippine Government expects normalcy to return to the country by 2023 – three years since the pandemic took root in the country. 

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. urges the public and local government units (LGUs) to cooperate fully with the national government when it comes to the vaccine rollout.

“It is only through this that we can implement a sustainable immunization program to recover the economy and restore normalcy in the lives of the Filipino people by 2023,” he said.

However, with how things are unfolding at the moment – particularly with the timeline of vaccine delivery and a significant chunk of the population refusing to get vaccinated – it might take a while longer before people can retire their masks. 

Want more news like this one? Head over to Nation Builder PH Breaking News Section for the latest updates.

Image credit: Lisa Marie David / NurPhoto via Getty Images