When the new coronavirus disease reached the Philippine shores in 2020, the national government made use almost all of its energies and resources to contain it. The local government units (LGUs), particularly the barangays, assumed roles which were never seen before. Given the lean annual budget of some barangays, they were still able to procure equipment, such as PPEs. They also provided food aid, and built makeshift quarantine facilities. How? By fund realignment. Apart from it, BLGUs sought assistance from higher LGUs and from the private sectors.
Almost two years into the pandemic, BLGUs have remained, at least in their respective jurisdictions, the implementers of municipal/city/provincial orders and even national-based policies.
BLGUs have also supported schools, as they moved from in-person classes to home education; they assisted the teachers in the distribution of modules. SK officials were also seen distributing learning kits intended for online classes. Other BLGUs have even purchased computers and printers for public schools and day care centers.
In March, the national government started its vaccination program. Achieving herd immunity, by inoculating seventy per cent of Philippine population, means returning to “old normal” definitely no lockdown. However, we are far from seeing the longed-for situation. The availability, supply of vaccines is seen as one of the hurdles on our way to it. Another is the reluctance of many Filipinos of getting the jabs.
The highly transmissible Delta variant, responsible for the return of the strictest ECQ, has already made its way to some provinces. Another foreign variant of COVID-19, Lambda, though not yet detected here, is also seeking the government’s attention. Of the variants mentioned and not mentioned, the vaccine remains our ultimate defence.
A number of Filipinos don’t want to be inoculated because of the baseless comments on vaccine’s efficacy, many of which thrive reportedly on Facebook and other social media fora. Same narratives have also circulated in the nooks and crannies of Philippine barrios. In our village of more than 500 residents, only 23 people have availed of the free doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far. Some declined because they chose to believe their neighbours’ stories and vloggers’ posts over science.
Melvin Sanicas, a physician-scientist specializing in vaccines and infectious diseases, has warned individuals on misinformation.
He wrote on Facebook: “No one is completely immune to false information— be careful what you feed your mind. One of, if not the most potent way of spreading misinformation is repetition; the more you see/ hear/read about an idea, the more likely you are to believe it to be true— anti science/ anti vaxx / pro disease use this a lot in blogs, YouTube videos, podcasts, memes, etc.! Stick to credible and relevant sources!”
As the government aims to ramp up its vaccination drive, they need the support of the smallest political unit. Aside from ensuring that conventional measures are being followed by the constituents, village officials must also lead the education campaign— a way to boost the residents’ vaccine confidence.
Unfortunately, some officials are also victims of misinformation, making them messengers of hoax and pseudoscience. As authorities in the community, their views on certain things matter. That is why, officials must be fed with science-based information.
In the province, particularly in mountain barangays, some residents have put their trust on alternative medicine. These people also do not question what they see online, and worse, do not bother to fact-check contents. These are some reasons why we have vaccine “hesitants,” affecting the government’s goal of population protection. Hence, proper communication should be made at the barangay level.
More often, if not always, advisory and memo forwarded to barangays are written in English language. Truth to tell, not all officials can understand technical terms, and this is also true among the constituents. For effective communication strategies, simpler words must be used by the higher LGUs and government agencies. BLGUs must then disseminate the policies and Covid-related information, through their public address system, in native language.
While LGUs and private companies keep on thinking of viable alternatives to encourag individuals to take the jabs —others have promised non-cash perks— information campaigns remain the most effective if properly communicated. Village officials must have a “special” place in the government’s vaccination plan. Why? Because they know their people and their people know them. It’s time to deploy our barangay frontliners for information drive. But first, they must be trained for them to administer fact-based messaging.
by Jeric Olay