Chaos erupts at COVID-19 vaccination sites a day before Metro Manila ECQ

Multiple vaccination sites across the National Capital Region (NCR) and nearby provinces grappled with an unprecedented turnout of people desperate to receive a COVID-19 jab a day before the hard lockdown in the region.

In some areas, the chaos resulted in massive failure to observe minimum health protocols, seen as crucial at a time when the COVID-19 Delta variant threatens to further undermine the Philippines’ road to economic recovery.

In Manila, police estimated that the turnout on early Thursday morning, August 5, could go as high as 22,000 across four malls operating as vaccination hubs. The huge crowds even forced the city government to halt inoculation operations at SM San Lazaro.

SUSPENDED. SM San Lazaro in Manila halts vaccinations on Thursday, August 5, 2021, after as many as 10,000 people flocked to the inoculation site a day before the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila.

Vaccinations were also suspended on Thursday in two vaccination sites in Las Piñas – namely the Las Piñas Doctors Hospital and SM Southmall – due to the influx of people. Disgruntled residents took to social media to express their frustration over the disorderly process.

Inoculation hubs in local government units (LGUs) of Parañaque, Muntinlupa, and Antipolo also bore witness to long lines a day before the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was imposed in Metro Manila.

'Disinformation led to huge crowds'

The Las Piñas Public Information Office (PIO) told Rappler that the long lines stemmed from false information that unvaccinated people would not be able to receive supplemental aid from the national government.

“Isang pinaka-reason dito ay iyong fake news na kapag walang bakuna, walang ayuda,” Paul San Miguel, Las Piñas PIO chief, said.

(One main reason for the long lines is the fake news that people who have not received the vaccine won’t qualify for financial aid.)

In Manila, many residents who fell in line supposedly received false information that unvaccinated people would not be allowed to leave their homes.

Napag-alaman ng mga imbestigador na dumagsa ang mga tao dahil natatakot sila sa kumalat na balita na hindi sila papayagan lumabas ng kanilang tirahan kung hindi sila bakunado. Huhulihin daw po sila,” Manila PIO chief Julius Leonen said.

(Investigators found that there was an influx of people because they were afraid of the news that they won't be allowed to leave their homes and would be arrested if they have not received a vaccine.)

For the record, President Rodrigo Duterte had said he wanted police and barangay captains to restrict the movement of people unwilling to get a COVID-19 jab. During ECQ, only authorized persons outside residence can go out of their homes.

The Manila LGU said it was also surprised by the unusually high turnout in malls, with SM San Lazaro grappling with as many as 10,000 people before it halted operations.

“Usually 1,000+ to 2,000+ lang ang regular numbers niyan (Usually, the regular turnout would be around 1,000 to 2,000),” Leonen said.

He added that many of those who fell in line came from provinces such as Cavite, Bulacan, Laguna, and Rizal.

“They came in many groups, they came in many vans,” Leonen quoted the Manila Police District as saying.

Hindi alam ng karamihan sa mga dumagsa kung ano ang QR code, o na dapat magpakita ng QR code sa bakunahan. Bago ka makapagpabakuna sa Maynila, kailangan mo muna ng QR code,” he added.

(Many of those who rushed to the sites did not know that they had to present a QR code before they become eligible for vaccination in Metro Manila.)

This is not the first time Manila’s vaccination system raised some eyebrows, as it does not provide a specific time schedule for people. In previous occasions, many had to fall in line for hours, as early as dawn, and sometimes, brave floodwaters.

Ensuring a safe vaccination process must be a top priority for LGUs in Metro Manila, especially as it targets to administer all 400,000 COVID-19 jabs set to be allocated to the region by the national government during the ECQ period from August 6 to 20.

The targeted daily vaccination output stemmed from the region's goal to raise its vaccination coverage to 45%, only 5% shy of the "population protection" target.

Metro Manila is no stranger to a coronavirus variant-driven surge, having experienced one in March. But the presence of the Delta variant threatens to make disorderly vaccinations a super spreader event. – Rappler.com