Consuelo de bobo

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - March 22, 2021 - 12:00am

Every day, we are setting a new record high in the number of new COVID cases. Last Friday, it was 7,103, almost one case for every island in the country, more or less. Last Saturday, it was 7,999.

Where did our public health go wrong? The Heneral Lunacy blog asks and answers:

“Incompetence, check. Corruption, check. Miscommunication, check. Opaqueness, check. Arrogance, check. Unaccountability, check.

“We bungled our vaccine procurement. Pfizer vaccines that had been allocated to us – now diverted to Singapore – were lost because somebody failed to sign some non-disclosure agreement. Even today we are struggling with vaccine supplies…”

Yet, a delusional Duterte administration official said their COVID management performance had been excellent.

Today, he can make a new claim: Our performance is comparable to Europe’s.

Of course, that is consuelo de bobo. Europe’s COVID performance had been as horrible as ours. Europe is closing down again. Misery loves company.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman made this observation in his New York Times column:

“When new vaccines finally offer a realistic prospect of returning to normal life, policy in the European Union has been marked by one bungle after another… Adjusted for population, Britain and the US have administered around three times as many doses as France or Germany…

“Europe’s vaccination debacle will almost surely end up causing thousands of unnecessary deaths. And the thing is, the continent’s policy bungles don’t look like isolated instances, a few bad decisions made by a few bad leaders…

“The details of the European failure are complex. But the common thread seems to be that European officials were not just risk averse, but averse to the wrong risks.

“They seemed deeply worried about the possibility that they might end up paying drug companies too much, or discover that they had laid out money for vaccines that either proved ineffective or turned out to have dangerous side effects.

“So they minimized these risks by delaying the procurement process, haggling over prices and refusing to grant liability waivers. They seemed far less worried about the risk that many Europeans might get sick or die because the vaccine rollout was too slow.”

Doesn’t that sound familiar? Remember how DOH Sec Duque dropped the ball on the Pfizer contract? Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez only started to sign contracts way after many countries have started vaccinating their people.

Rep. Joey Salceda commented that “other countries are vaccinating fast. Let’s not get stuck with complicated rules. Government needs private sector support, but they need the implementing rules so they can act. And the rules have to be simple and reasonable. No unnecessary restrictions, specially those outside legislative intent.”

Bureaucratic inertia was a problem here as it was in Europe. And lives are being lost because of it.

David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrote this analysis in his morning summary:

“Why has Europe done so poorly?

“1. Too much bureaucracy

“While the US and other countries rushed to sign agreements with vaccine makers… Europe chose to prioritize process over speed…

“The result was slower regulatory approval of the vaccines and delayed agreements to buy doses, forcing Europe to wait in line behind countries that moved faster.

“2. Penny-wise and pound-foolish

“Europe put a big emphasis on negotiating a low price for vaccine doses. Israeli officials, by contrast, were willing to pay a premium to receive doses quickly. Israel has paid around $25 per Pfizer dose, and the US pays about $20 per dose. The EU pays from $15 to $19.

“The discounted price became another reason that Europe had to wait in line behind other countries. Even in purely economic terms, the trade-off will probably be a bad one: Each $1 saved per vaccine dose might ultimately add up to $1 billion — a rounding error in a trading bloc with a nearly $20 trillion annual economic output. A single additional lockdown, like the one Italy announced this week, could wipe out any savings.”

Back here at home, the question on people’s minds is simply: Where are those vaccines?

Vaccination is too slow. The current steep rise in the number of new cases could have been arrested if more people in NCR had been vaccinated by now.

Two weeks ago, Edson Guido, the head of the ABS-CBN News Data Analytics team made that suggestion to produce herd immunity in NCR.

Edson noted that achieving herd immunity nationwide by end of the year that’s being promised by Galvez will be a challenge. But what if we focus our vaccination efforts in NCR instead? Given the limited supply of the vaccines, it makes sense to first target these areas with the highest number of cases.

Edson figured that if we inoculate 10 million of the 13 million people in NCR, that’s already 77 percent.

“Is 10 million a realistic vaccination target by end of the year? Or even before the fourth quarter? Yup, I think so. Can you imagine herd immunity in Metro Manila?”

Apparently, Secretary Duque saw the logic. So, he ordered vaccines sent to the provinces to be returned to NCR. Galvez opposed that move for good reason… poor logistics will just damage the vaccines. They shouldn’t have sent those vaccines out of NCR, to begin with.

The thing is… vaccines work. Spectacular drops in hospitalization rates have been observed where vaccines have been rolled out. Israel, for example, is starting to reopen as vaccination rate reaches 50 percent.

On the other hand, we are now having that surge of cases in NCR in the absence of vaccination.

According to OCTA, the reproduction number is currently around 1.95, which means one COVID positive person is infecting nearly two other persons. That will put total bed and ICU capacity in NCR at full 100 percent occupancy by first week of April.

Oh well… here we are on voluntary lockdown because we are just scared to death as the number of daily cases rises.

But Duterte said, it is a small thing… maliit na bagay yan.

Excellent performance, indeed. Those avoidable deaths should forever be on the conscience of Duterte and his COVID team.



Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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