The initiative of the private sector to procure COVID-19 vaccines for employees in Bataraza will help increase the turnout of inoculated residents and reach the herd immunity in the town, said Rio Tuba Nickel Foundation, Inc. (RTNFI).
Nickel Asia Corporation (NAC) procured vaccines allotted for the regular and directly hired employees of RTNMC, RTNFI, and CDTN Services Company Inc.
Dr. Bimbo Almonte, RTNFI’s medical director, believes the initiative will increase the number of people vaccinated in Bataraza as they begin to administer the first doses of Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines to 236 RTNFI and Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC) employees who fall into the A3 category, or those with comorbidities. The vaccination is being carried out under the supervision of Dr. Ma. Rebethia Acala, the head of the municipal health office.
“Dito sa Bataraza, ang inisyatibo ng private sector, ng RTNMC, RTN Foundation at CBNC, later on ang CBNC ay magkakaroon na rin. Magiging mas malaki ang turn out ng vaccinated Bataraza residents siyempre kasama na roon sa Rio Tuba. Iyon ang target talaga ng Nickel Asia,” Almonte said.
He said that they followed the government’s classification in order to preserve orderliness in the vaccination process. The first batch includes 56 RTNFI workers and 180 RTNMC employees.
The next schedule for A3 vaccination is on September 4 for around 200 employees of CDTN Services Company Inc., to be followed by the remaining employees under the A4 category.
Almonte said NAC conducted a survey in 2020 where around 60 to 70 percent of employees in Bataraza only agreed to get vaccinated due to vaccine hesitancy. The regular employees of RTNMC are at 560 to 580 with 400 directly hired; while 255 employees are from RTNFI which are all accounted in the allocation of NAC.
“Noong nakita nila na nasa 60 to 70 percent lang ang gusto magpabakuna, although, in part, ma-attain mo na ang herd immunity. Ang ginawa, naglaan pa rin sila [ng vaccine] kahit nag-no ka. It means, all accounted ang workers nila. Last minute na lang, kung ayaw mo talaga ay hindi ka na mabibigyan,” he said.
“Mas gusto ng Nickel Asia na 100 percent dapat para lahat protektado. Para ma-enganyo sila na kahit pala nag-no ay binilhan pa rin sila. To our surprise, during the first leg ng vaccination natin, marami ang nag-no na nakapila lalo na noong nakita nila na totoo ang COVID, nasa Palawan na siya. Kasi during the time of survey ay wala pa tayong halos kaso sa Palawan,” he added.
Almonte observed that the previous 70% willingness to get vaccinated might increase to around 85 to 90% and the remaining population of vaccine-hesitant individuals can be convinced through efforts of information and education campaigns.
“In general, mas dumami ang gusto magpabakuna ngayon because of the situation. Kumbaga nandyan na sa paligid mo. May kaibigan na akong nagka-COVID, ‘yong dating negative ang dating sa bakuna, tinamaan, naghingalo siya, parang ganon – mas na-strengthen na kasi ang IEC natin ngayon towards having the vaccine. Mas dumami ang pumabor na magpabakuna ngayon. As compared dati kasi may mga factor na nakaapekto,” he said.
He added that it also helped boost the confidence of the employees with the efficacy of vaccines after seeing health workers get vaccinated.
RTNFI hopes that all employees will be vaccinated at the end of the year but it will still depend on the arrival of supplies.
COVID-19 preventive measure in the workplace
Almonte said aside from continuous IEC efforts and hospital information campaigns, the mining company is also conducting random antigen swab testing in each department once or twice a week.
“Para sila ay maenganyo na magpa-checkup o magdisiplina. Kasi syempre kapag nahuli ka na nag-positive ka, inimbestigan na nag-travel pala ito at hindi work-related, ‘yong leave nila ang gagamitin. Hindi sila mawo-work-related. Para ma-prevent ang mga ganon at maging disiplinado sila, ang ginawa ng companies ay random swab test,” he said.
“Per department, nagpi-pick sila ng mga tao, sa isang araw, ipapadala nila ‘yan sa ospital for antigen swabbing test. Once in a while, nakakakuha tayo ng workers. With that, kapag na-identify through random, mapipigilan mo siyang kumalat doon sa area na ‘yon, napu-pull out mo siya agad,” he added.
Each department is also securing the health declaration of employees before their duties start in a day. Strong partnership with the MHO is also maintained in the implementation of new advisories and guidelines to secure collective effort in the workplace.
“Sabihin natin na 10 to 20 percent, nakukuha natin, Pero ‘yong positivity rate ay nasa around 10 percent, may isa tayong nakukuha per grupo. Minsan talaga may araw na wala, may linggo na zero kami. May araw talaga na matsambahan mo (na meron). Kapag meron, immediate information,” he said.
Once an employee tests reactive, RTNFI informs the company, department, and the MHO for isolation, disinfection, and contact tracing procedures. Almonte said that it is a good thing that supervisors are empowered to cooperate and perform contact tracing at their level.
Almonte also observed that in general, not all companies are religiously complying with occupational health in workplaces. During this time, he is looking forward that it will now be given more focus and importance as part of the protection of workers.
“With this pandemic, I’m looking forward to incorporate ‘yong preventive and control measures. Not only to COVID-19 but to other diseases as well. Sometimes kasi, ang occupational health (ay) hindi siya masyadong nabibigyan ng pansin sa companies, in general,” he said.
“Number two, ang mga policies natin will now incorporate to emerging and re-emerging diseases. Number three, mas mabibigyan na ng importansya ang mga tao ‘yong pag-prioritize nila sa health nila. Equally important pala siya sa safety – magkakaroon siya ng equal footing with regards to safety when we talk about workplace,” he added.
Employees must also adapt the practices in COVID-19 prevention and control from their workplaces to their households to also protect their families, he stressed.