EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - January 18, 2021 - 12:00am

Here in the Philippines, anyone who is anyone can already get a vaccine against COVID-19, never mind that the Food and Drug Administration has not issued any authorization yet, except for the still to be delivered Pfizer and BioNTech.

Last week, I met someone who received a vaccine here in Manila and she’s quite relieved – no need to wear masks, no need for face shields, and no exaggerated use of alcohol and sanitizers.

She is among a privileged crowd who rolled up their sleeves for the vaccine. Some of them are tycoons, businessmen, friends of businessmen, government officials and, if Teresita Ang See is correct, even Chinese workers in the country, including those in the POGO industry.

As it is with anything that is hard to access or is in limited supply here in the country, those within or not far from the echelons of power, can get it and that is what has been happening.

Black market

Those who aren’t too well connected may also get the vaccine, but from the black market for a hefty amount of roughly $500 for two doses, I’m told.

It’s not very clear how the vaccines found their way to our shores. Am I wrong to think it has to do with President Duterte’s close ties with Uncle Xi?

One can’t blame those who opted to receive the vaccine, never mind that it hasn’t been authorized by the FDA yet for distribution in the country.  The virus, after all, is still very much out there and the new, so-called UK variant, has only made it worse.

Anyone offered access to a vaccine may grab it, given the desperate and dangerous situation we’re still in.

But the whole thing is wrong on so many levels. Here we go again, proving once more that in this country, it is still, sadly, every man for himself.


Clearly, laws and regulations aren’t respected and on the matter of bringing in vaccines or life-altering medicines or substances for that matter, this is as serious as it can get. To skirt around existing FDA regulations puts our very own people at risk.

Were members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) put in a dangerous situation because they received unauthorized vaccines?

I also wonder how the vaccines were smuggled through our borders. And for those given to the PSG and other people in government, there are so many questions that need to be answered.

To whom will we be beholden for this unprecedented access to the vaccines? Why can’t our authorities provide a clearer explanation? Why are our lawmakers told not to question what happened?

Patronage politics

What this development also shows us is that patronage politics, bequeathed to us by the Spaniards, is still so deeply ingrained in our system and sometimes this comes at the expense of ordinary Filipinos.

In 1571 when Manila was the capital of the Spanish administration in the Philippines, for instance, top Filipino businessmen gained a virtual monopoly of the Galleon Trade. What was supposed to be a source of income for Filipinos was controlled by just a powerful few.

Vaccine blunder

This is clearly a very big blunder. Do we not wonder why elsewhere in the world, those who received the vaccine proudly wear it as a badge, posting photos on their timelines, while here in our country, people who have received it keep quiet about it? It is because the vaccines they received have not been authorized to be distributed just yet.

As for the other vaccines and the rest of the population, our health authorities really need to ensure that Filipinos, especially our frontliners, health workers, and ordinary Filipinos will get access to safe, reliable, and affordable vaccines.

Price of Sinovac

It’s also appalling why the price of Sinovac vaccines in Thailand and Indonesia is estimated at only $5 per dose or $10 (P500) for two doses, while in the Philippines, the estimated cost is P3,629.50 or about $70, including the price of logistical requirements such as vaccinators, PPEs, and storage. Against this backdrop, our government said it chose Sinovac because it is cheaper than other brands.

I also heard that employers who want to procure vaccines for their companies need to have endorsements from important people. What is really the procedure here?

Looking at the bigger picture, our leaders should be held accountable for the unauthorized entry and distribution of vaccines here. More than getting vaccinated against COVID-19, we Filipinos deserve a vaccine against corruption, smuggling, and patronage politics in this country.



Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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