From Russia with love

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - August 19, 2020 - 12:00am

I have always been an admirer of James Bond films. I watched the first movie, Dr. No, starring Sean Connery and Ursula Andress in Cairo, where I graduated from high school at Cairo American College. Needless to say after watching that first one, I was hooked and watched every Bond film I could after that, through all the different iterations of 007 up until the latest films (except for the newest one that couldn’t get to cinemas because of COVID-19).

I think I enjoy James Bond because he always goes up against impossible odds and still finds a way to win. Plus he looked incredibly cool while doing it. Many of the earlier Bond villains were from Russia – mostly because of the political situation at the time they were released – and while the world has moved on from the Cold War there are still many things the West and Russia find themselves in a “fight” over, mostly scientific breakthroughs or discoveries.

That’s why the newly announced Russian vaccine brought images of James Bond and his second feature film “From Russia with Love” to mind. These days the global pandemic is still on everyone’s mind and as several more areas in the Philippine transition back to general community quarantine, our sights remain set on a potential vaccine that can hopefully get us back to some kind of newer, better normal. One in which, we can hopefully reunite with and hug our loved ones again.

That is, unfortunately, still far away and at this point, we all still have to do what we can to help curb the spread of the virus and help our healthcare workers to be able to battle the biggest enemy of all our lives (to date). Masks, face shields, and social distancing remain top priorities while the scientific community struggles to find vaccines and cures to aid in the ongoing war against the coronavirus.

Which brings me back to the newly announced Russian vaccine. In a worldwide race to find a vaccine for COVID-19, Russia announced that their vaccine was ready and President Vladimir Putin has granted regulatory approval after less than two months. This move was hailed by Moscow as signaling positive evidence of the vaccine’s efficacy and safety while the rest of the world furrows a brow at the speed with which the vaccine is being offered to the world.

Honestly, I can’t help but be a bit skeptical. After all, the vaccine is being released ahead of the results of Phase 3 clinical trials. While I am all for vaccinating and preventing illnesses, I am also of the mind that vaccines need to undergo very careful clinical studies to ensure not just their efficacy, but also their safety. We don’t need to replace one problem with another after all. We’ve all seen “I Am Legend”. We know how badly a vaccine can go if it has side effects that haven’t been properly mitigated before distribution.

However, due to close ties with Russia and Putin, President Duterte seems quite ready to accept the Russian vaccine and even volunteered to be a “guinea pig” for the Russians in the ongoing vaccine study. He shared in a press briefing that he remains confident that the Russian vaccine will work, and grateful that they are willing to provide it to the Philippines quickly.

While any thought of a workable vaccine is a silver lining in this bleak coronavirus world, I still think it’s important that we be careful and not rush into anything. There are still several studies ongoing globally and several versions of a vaccine in development. In London, famed theatre producer Andrew Lloyd Webber participated in an Oxford vaccine trial, which the university is doing in tandem with AstraZeneca. Thousands of people in the UK, United States, Brazil, and South Africa have volunteered to take part in clinical trials.

Hopefully, with all of these studies happening simultaneously, positive outcomes will be emerging soon. Both Russia and the UK have announced that the initial results of vaccine tests showed that the vaccine triggered an immune response and has been shown to be safe. It’s still early on, but the data is promising and I am hopeful that the best and brightest scientific minds around the world can make this happen.

In the meantime, I don’t think we should be rushing to mass-produce and distribute a vaccine ahead of scientific backed data of its safety and efficiency. In the meantime, we all need to strictly adhere to safety protocols to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Stay home whenever possible, wear masks and face shields, and be socially distant whenever you have to leave the house. It will continue to be hard, many are struggling, but there is no way but through. We have to help each other. If we all work together I believe we can make it out the other side.

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