“Sama-sama tayo dito, walang maiiwan.”
This was the assertion made by Dr. Joselito Gapas as First Philippine Holdings Corporation (FPH) and other Lopez Group companies activate their corporate COVID-19 vaccination programs beginning this month.
The rollout of FPH’s and ABS-CBN’s vaccination programs caps months of groundwork carried out by dozens of individuals across several Lopez Group companies. The goal: to encourage all employees and their dependents to get inoculated against COVID-19 and help the country achieve herd immunity.
Vac2Normal: Our Path to Recovery is the corporate vaccination program of the FPH Group and Lopez Affiliates that prioritizes its workers and their dependents in getting vaccinated against the deadly virus. Vaccinations under Vac2Normal will be carried out in at least 34 sites around the Philippines, while the Kapamilya Vaccination Program for ABS-CBN vaccinees has partnered with AC Health to set up its own hubs.
The Lopez Group acquired COVID-19 vaccines AstraZeneca, Covovax (Novavax) and Moderna. Along with Bharat, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen, Pfizer, Sinovac and Sputnik V, these have received or are about to receive emergency use authorization or EUA approvals from the Philippine Food and Drug Administration.
National prioritization standards
“We are complying with the national prioritization standards as well as guidelines provided by the Department of Health (DOH) on private sector vaccination,” affirms Gapas.
Gapas, Head of the Occupational Health Group at FPH, leads the Vac2Normal corporate working group which gathers teams from the company’s human resources; environment, safety and health; and planning departments. The group reports to the COVID vaccine executive committee headed by FPH president Giles Puno and other senior leaders.
Under the corporate working group is a vast network that includes company working groups and, for organizations with multiple sites in the Philippines, site working groups. Each of these groups is itself a multi-department unit.
“We are very happy and pleased because they are so cooperative,” Gapas says. “They appreciate that this is for the good not only of our workers but also for the good of our household members.”
The Vac2Normal team is buoyed by the idea that what they are doing is part of nation building and supporting the country to achieve herd immunity.
“It’s difficult physically, but easy emotionally and psychologically because everybody sees this as their contribution,” Gapas explains.
Aligned with best practices
The Kapamilya Vaccination Program is led by chief strategy officer and chief risk management officer Raymund Miranda, logistics and procurement head Allan Cotaoco, corporate services group head Philbert Berba, HR and organizational development head Nilda Bayani and HR operations head Cris Villaluz.
Like Vac2Normal, ABS CBN priority groups were determined based on the DOH and National Task Force Against COVID-19 guidelines and adapted to the company’s operations setup. The company also aligned with the Lopez Group and AC Health best practices, Villaluz notes.
The HR operations head estimates that they are on track with their projected third-quarter program rollout despite having received only a small percentage of their total order of Moderna and Covovax vaccines thus far.
Just this month, ABS-CBN administered its first batch of the two-dose Moderna vaccines to 80 employees who were deemed top priority vaccinees due to their being required to physically report to work, their comorbidity, and age. The first round of vaccinations was held at UP Technohub in Quezon City, with venues for succeeding batches to be coordinated with AC Health.
Additionally, ABS-CBN works with the local governments of Quezon City and Taguig to ensure that those who opt to enroll in their respective vaccination programs can do so easily, thereby encouraging more employees to get jabbed.
According to Villaluz, the company is gearing up for the full vaccination of 12,345 employees and their dependents and households. Depending on the arrival of the vaccines, ABS-CBN aims to complete the inoculations in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Not just business
Gapas came out of retirement—he had been based overseas—to join the Lopez Group in 2011. While he had been at the helm of other major projects during his stint with an oil and gas company, he shies away from calling his latest assignment “challenging,” choosing to use “fulfilling and rewarding” instead.
“Because this is not just about business. How do we contribute? How do we protect our people and, at the same time, support the country and government in reaching herd immunity so that we can go back to a better normal as soon as we can?,” he points out.
He commends the Vac-2Normal communications team led by Catherine Cabrillos, noting that they had to keep themselves “on top of a horse that keeps on running.”
“From the time we started communicating [with stakeholders] up to now, a lot of new things come up which we didn’t know a month ago or a week ago. Our communication would change all the time, so we have to be very agile. But in spite of that, the communications team has delivered,” he avers.
ABS-CBN’s Villaluz likens the process of implementing a COVID-19 vaccination program in the workplace to “changing tires while your car is running.”
“You need speed in deciding on matters, but relevant information that will help you to make an informed decision is oftentimes unavailable. A case in point is the changing guidelines on whether the vaccine should be given free to the employees and dependents, something that directly impacts the financial considerations of any business,” she says.
The HR operations head also acknowledges that there are employees who are torn between waiting for the higher-efficacy brands and getting vaccinated at the soonest possible time with whatever brand is available.
16 months of lockdowns
The Vac2Normal and Kapamilya Vaccination Program rollouts come one and a half years after the Philippines reported its first case of the novel coronavirus in January 2020. It has also been 16 months since lockdowns were implemented all over the world after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Then, the WHO had reported that there were “more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and 4,291 people have lost their lives. Thousands more are fighting for their lives in hospitals.”
On March 1, 2021, Philippine General Hospital director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi became the first official vaccinee when he received a shot of Sinovac Biotech’s CoronaVac, signaling the start of COVID-19 vaccination in the country.
According to herdimmunity.ph, as of July 12, 2021 almost 3.5 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated, representing about 3% of the total population. The country needs to fully inoculate 70 million individuals in order to achieve herd immunity by Dec. 31, 2021, according to current targets set by the national government.
However, the WHO recently recommended that countries vaccinate about 85% of their population due to the rise of more transmissible variants of the coronavirus, such as the delta and lambda.
It is also important to note that individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after completing their shots. They must continue to religiously observe minimum health protocols—physical distancing (six feet), wearing of face masks and face shields, washing or sanitizing hands regularly, avoiding crowded places, and ensuring that their homes and workplaces are well ventilated—as they are still capable of transmitting the disease.
In the midst of vaccine hesitancy, vaccine discrimination and other issues, Villaluz and Gapas urge employees to look at the big picture.
“Getting vaccinated is ultimately an individual’s decision but deciding to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is choosing safety for one’s self and our Kapamilya at work, at home and in the community,” Villaluz stresses.
Gapas underscores the importance of listening to experts and steering clear of fake news with regard to the effects of vaccines.
He adds: “You have to look at not only your health but the health of your loved ones, your community and the health of the country. Have yourself vaccinated because the best vaccine is the one in your arm. Regardless of the brand, it is good because it protects people from getting serious COVID. It will prevent us from going to the hospital, going to the ICU or dying. It will be for the good of everybody if you do so.”