When the choice is get jabbed or starve 1

When the choice is get jabbed or starve; 3 workers share their stories

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at Oct 19 2021 04:39 PM | Updated as of Oct 20 2021 10:27 AM

As restrictions are gradually lifted around Metro Manila, the signs “Fully Vaccinated” are being posted from restaurants enticing diners, to stores attracting shoppers, to service shops hoping to gain back loyal customers. 

While that sign no doubt gives an extra measure of comfort to visitors, it comes at a price, which is that all employees of the establishment submitted themselves to COVID-19 vaccinations from the local government units or via private sector health initiatives, whether they wanted one or not.

Then again, why would you say no? COVID-19 has claimed over 40,000 lives of men, women and children from all economic and social backgrounds. Over 2.7 million have been infected and the number rises daily. Countries with accelerated vaccination drives have proven that this is one effective way to curb infection.

And yet deep into the pandemic, many continue to hesitate. By law, no one should be able to force you to get the vaccine. The Department of Labor and Employment and the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines back this and yet despite their assurances, when faced with the choice, can workers really afford to say no?

As pressure mounts over rising cases and hospitals filled to capacity, the choice not to get vaccinated has cost many employees their jobs. With their backs to the wall, Danny, Precy and Dionisio painfully discovered the choice is between getting a jab or starving along with their families.

When it’s a choice between not getting the vaccine or feeding your family

Danny was employed as a family driver but when the pandemic struck last year, he was told to stop reporting to work until the situation improves. His employer was working from home and the children switched to remote learning so there was no one for Danny to drive around. While his employer offered irregular handouts, Danny’s family went hungry many times during the next six months.

When the restrictions were finally lifted, Danny was eager to report to work but his employer gave the condition that he present a completed vaccination card. 

“Ayaw ko sana at wala talaga akong balak magpabakuna. Pero naisip ko hindi na kami tatagal ng 6 na buwan uli na walang kinakain. Kaya pumila na rin ako. Nakaramdam ako ng side effects at matinding sakit ng katawan. Natakot ako at naisip ko baka ikamatay ko pa ang pagbabakuna. Buti na lang makaraan ng 2 araw, okay na," said Danny. 

(I didn’t want to and I had no plans to get vaccinated. But I also knew we would not survive another 6 months with no food on the table so I signed up to get the vaccine. I suffered side effects and my body ached for 2 days. I thought the vaccine would kill me but thankfully the side effects passed.)

Since then, Danny has pushed his whole family to be vaccinated, and the drivers in their neighborhood too.

Spending the pandemic away from own family

Precy was recruited and placed with a family soon after the quarantine was enforced. As fears around COVID-19 escalated, Precy’s chances to visit her family evaporated. She could not leave because she needed to pay off her debts first, and if she left right after the debts are settled, she would go home with empty pockets. Precy resigned herself to staying until the end of the pandemic.

But after 12 months, she was homesick so she packed her bags and some savings and went home. 

“Parang hindi na kasi matatapos so kailan pa ako makakauwi? Kaya umalis na lang ako. Paguwi ko, mga 2 linggo lang na-realize ko kailangan namin ng pera pero hindi na ako basta basta makabalik. Kailangan ko raw magpabakuna tapos mag-quarantine at mag test kung gusto ko na may kumuha sa akin. Kaso ako ang magbabayad ng pagkain ko sa quarantine at tsaka iyong test kaya hindi na ako makapagtrabaho," Precy said.

(I was thinking when will this end so I decided to go home. I realized quickly that I should have stayed for the money because my family needed it. But it was not that easy. To get another placement, I had to get vaccinated, observe quarantine and be tested. Worse, I had to pay for the test and my meals during the quarantine. That’s why I still have no work.)

No vaccine, no work, no pay

Dionisio is paid the daily wage as a construction worker, and after months of no work, he was grateful to be called back to report to the site. However, a long list of requirements awaited him and all the other workers.

“Noong una, mga listahan lang ng dapat suutin. Tapos kapag hindi mo inalagaan ikaw ang magbabayad. Ngayon kasama na ang vaccination," said Dionisio. 

(Before it was just a list of protective gear. If you don’t take good care of them, you have to pay for replacements. Now the list includes proof of vaccination.)

As minimum wage earners, Dionisio and his co-workers say there really is no point in holding out. They know the unemployment line is long and it is right behind them. If they do not follow the strict protocols, they will not be called back to the site.

“Hindi naman sa ayaw ko magpabakuna. Gusto ko sana mag-antay kasi parang mabilisan ang paggawa. Meron akong hypertension at takot ako na magkaroon ng side effect. May mga kilala kami na hindi napabuti matapos magpabakuna. Pero sa tagal ng pandemya, hindi ko na kaya mag-antay pa," Dionisio said. 

(It’s not that I do not want to get vaccinated. I just wanted to wait because I felt it was a rushed product. I have hypertension and I'm worried about side effects. I also know of others whose health did not improve after the vaccine. But this pandemic has gone on too long and I can no longer wait.)

From these stories, the informal sector appears to be the hardest hit among workers. How many more Dannys, Precys and Dionisios are there who realized there really isn’t much of a choice for them, at this point and for the many more months ahead before this pandemic will pass?

Public health is a priority and I confess my family submitted ourselves to getting vaccinated months ago. With young children and elderly family members, we did this not just for ourselves, but also to ensure an extra ring of protection for our more vulnerable relations.

The government’s failure to raise awareness and promote the need for vaccination, and to cushion the poor from the crippling effects of the pandemic, have meant that for Danny, Precy and Dionisio and many like them, rightly or wrongly, there really isn’t much of choice.

While some, like Danny, Precy and Dionisio expressed hesitance to be vaccinated, many more workers want to take the jab but are unable to because vaccine supplies are still lacking, according to the TUCP.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.

Watch more on iWantTFC

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.