Surging cases greet yearlong lockdowns

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - March 9, 2021 - 12:00am

The country is entering the first year anniversary of a government order to quarantine Metro Manila as a precaution to rising coronavirus cases. It has been an uneasy ride, described as one of the longest lockdowns imposed on a geographic area that is the center of a country’s economic life.

Today, one year ago, cases were only at 24. On March 11 last year, one day before the President announced an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) order, the harshest lockdown level for Metro Manila, cases had risen to just 49. Last week, we saw cases surging beyond 3,000 cases, something we had last seen six months ago.

With COVID-19 caseloads going up, there is fear that the government will impose another total lockdown and that people will once again be called to sacrifice livelihoods. Unlike one year ago, though, millions of Filipinos may not willingly forgo the opportunity to work, earn, and feed their hungry families.

We have to find a better solution that will balance this lives-versus-livelihood quandary. Last year, we saw thousands of small businesses close down. In recent months, remaining businesses have struggled with curtailed income.

Losses by companies that need employees to physically report to work to keep operations going have been enormous during the ECQ and modified ECQ periods. Another prolonged period of closure would bring them closer to insolvency and irreparable damage.

At a time when prices of basic commodities are high, a return to ECQ or even MECQ will become unsustainable, even suicidal to many. Let’s put our minds together to salvage the situation before it turns into an unmanageable crisis.

Slow vaccine procurement

One of the pandemic fixes that have gained support by governments around the world is vaccination, regardless of anti-vax conspiracy theories, debates on brand efficacies and safety, or the emergence of several highly contagious variants of the coronavirus.

Vaccines and vaccination, however, are not as simple as going to a hospital and getting treatment. For many developing countries like the Philippines, realizing that there is value to having its population vaccinated has come too late.

Even with news of massive vaccination campaigns in other countries, the Philippines struggles with just a million delivered doses – good enough for only half a million people on the prescribed two doses, definitely not enough to protect all of the 1.7 million frontline health workers in the priority list.

Let’s not get started on how many others are in the list of vulnerable people, like senior citizens who are also eligible under the emergency use authorization category.

To enable the archipelagic Philippines to acquire herd immunity, 70 million to 80 million Filipinos will need to be vaccinated. Aside from clinching enough vaccine supplies, local vaccine approval by the Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use of the rest of the population has not still given.

So far, the FDA has given emergency use authorization to only three vaccines: the Chinese Sinovac’s CoronaVac, joint British-German Pfizer/BioNTech’s Comirnaty, and British-Swedish AstraZeneca’s Covishield.

Thus, even if local big companies like San Miguel Corp. or ICTSI have secured coronavirus vaccine orders to vaccinate all their employees, they have to wait for general use approval from the FDA. How quick this can happen is anybody’s guess.

Brand preference

For people who are agreeable to getting the vaccine, what brand they will get is turning out to be important. For example, when Sinovac’s CoronaVac was being offered to the Philippine General Hospital’s frontline health workers, the sign-up was less than effusive.

To use up the vaccines allocated to the government hospital, second level frontline health workers were allowed to take the jab. Those who opted to miss on CoronaVac said they preferred to have AstraZeneca’s Covishield, or better still, Pfizer-BioNTech’s Comirnaty.

Much of the hesitancy, which turns out to be also a sentiment shared by many others outside the health profession, has to be with the reported and rumored incomplete trials of some vaccine brands, foremost being those made by the Chinese and Russian vaccine manufacturers.

In its COVID-19 vaccine tracker, the global Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS) based in Washington, DC published the Chinese CoronaVac as “a formalin-inactivated and adjuvanted vaccine.” On the other hand, RAPS notes that Pfizer’s Comirnaty is “a nucleoside modified mRNA-based vaccine,” while AstraZeneca’s is “a chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine.”

Of the three, only the Comirnaty has achieved a comfort level backed by reported real-world evidence, most notably in Israel where 43 percent of the population have received full dosage of the vaccine, and 14 percent have gotten their first shot.

The RAPS report noted that a study made by the Israeli Health Ministry showed an 89.4 percent reduction in transmission of asymptomatic cases and 93.7 percent for symptomatic cases. Additionally, the results on nearly 600,000 individual-members of Clalit, a health maintenance organization in Israel, were consistent with Pfizer’s phase 3 clinical trials.

Thus, for the Philippines, health officials would do best to factor in the collated published results of vaccine use in other countries and to calibrate how to roll out vaccinations to the general population of Filipinos, even if these were to be given free.

Having done nothing noteworthy the past year to eradicate or curb the coronavirus spread, the government should focus on doing a better job of bringing vaccines to a large part of the population at the soonest time if it wants to save our struggling economy.

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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