Inexcusable delay

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

In a few days, the entire National Capital Region will be placed once again under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), which means that a number of businesses will have to reduce capacities, if not close altogether, for two weeks.

But even before the ECQ from Aug. 6 to 20, many businesses were already closed when Metro Manila was placed under heightened GCQ status beginning today (Aug. 1), in particular gyms and fitness centers.

However, personal care services such as beauty salons, beauty parlors, barber shops, and nail spas will still be allowed to operate, albeit at reduced capacity, even during ECQ.

This once again begs the question – is beauty more essential than fitness?

The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) has yet to answer this question. I know a lot of people working in fitness centers who were only able to get back to work middle of June after gyms, fitness studios and indoor non-contact sports venues were allowed to operate at 30 percent venue capacity in the NCR Plus.

It will be recalled that gyms were ordered closed beginning March 15, which means that gym workers were jobless for two months. Then on June 11, gyms, fitness studios and indoor non-contact sports venues were allowed to operate at 30 percent venue capacity in NCR Plus provided they get a safety seal certification first. About two weeks after or on July 1, they were allowed to increase to 40 percent of capacity.

Two months closed, followed by one-and-a-half months at 40 percent capacity, and now, closed again for 20 days.

The government deems it necessary to place NCR on stricter quarantine to prevent the spread of the more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.

Vaccination, continued use of face masks, contact tracing, and isolation remain our only way to combat this dreaded disease. Sadly, our government’s response has been reactionary, to say the least.

If the Philippines has administered at least 19.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far, and assuming every person needs two doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated about nine percent of the population, according to the Reuters COVID-19 tracker. Nine percent is, of course, too low to attain herd immunity.

According to vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the gap between supply of vaccines and demand is still huge at 42.6 million, but he expects to meet that demand by October.

Clearly, there is a need to fast-track the importation of vaccines in meaningful quantities, particularly those that are effective against the Delta variant. Equally important is the need to expedite the approval of multi-party agreements needed by private companies and local government units to procure vaccines as soon as possible.

Many in the private sector and even the LGUs are keenly awaiting the entry of and have expressed their desire to procure Covaxin, a vaccine formula using an inactivated virus and produced by Bharat Biotech. This is because Covaxin has shown better efficacy rates against the Delta variant compared to the US and Europe-produced vaccines, is cheaper, is said to be more practical in terms of its storage requirements, and more importantly, is readily available. Among those that have expressed interest in procuring Covaxin are local businesses connected with the Go Negosyo program of presidential adviser Joey Concepcion, and at least 24 LGUs.

But Galvez appears hesitant to approve the multi-party agreement that will allow Covaxin to be brought in. He has even stated publicly that he prefers the US-produced Pfizer.

Covaxin is India’s first indigenous COVID-19 vaccine which uses the same method as Coronovac by using an inactivated virus to trigger immune response from the body. It also requires two doses, with an interval of 28 days. Last June 25, the Food and Drug Administration granted the vaccine full emergency use authorization (EUA).

Based on Phase III clinical trials, Covaxin was found to be 93.4 percent effective against severe symptomatic COVID-19 infection, 77.8 percent against symptomatic infection, 65.2 percent against the Delta variant, 63.6 percent against asymptomatic infection, and 77.8 percent overall protection against the disease. The Indian Council of Medical Research – National Institute of Virology has also published a study which says that Covaxin is also effective against the Beta variant, which like the Delta variant, is a variant of concern that is rapidly spreading worldwide.

Unlike other vaccines that are not advisable for senior citizens, Covaxin is safe to be administered to persons from 18 to 98 years old. Meanwhile, pediatric trials are ongoing for ages two to 17, and are expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of this year.

More important is the fact that compared to those produced in the US and Europe, Covaxin does not require sub-arctic temperatures for storage, but only at between two to eight degrees Celsius.

And contrary to what Galvez has been saying, Covaxin at P1,800 for two doses is cheaper than Pfizer – which costs P2,379 for two doses, Moderna – which is P4,504, Novavax (P2,000). Not to mention the higher logistical costs, especially in terms of storage of the other vaccines which require sub-zero levels, making them difficult for the provinces to handle.

Baharat Biotech is said to have committed to allot high million doses to the Philippines.

It has been reported that the World Health Organization will release its decision regarding Covaxin around September or October this year in so far as its inclusion in its emergency use list is concerned.

There is no excuse for our government to delay the multi-party agreement for Covaxin, which will be officially distributed in the Philippines by IP Biotech. Not with Covaxin’s promising prospects against the Delta variant. Not with our vaccine supply dwindling, and especially not with businesses and lives being put on hold once again.

Misuse of TUPAD program

A watchdog recently filed a complaint in Malacañang against a local lawmaker and his brother for using a government cash-for-work program illegally.

In its protest before the Presidential Complaint Center, the Bantay Kaban – Citizens Forum Against Corruption and Poverty charged the two for using the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged Workers (TUPAD) program in the 2022 elections.

TUPAD is a project of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) that helps workers who lost their jobs recover from the pandemic brought by COVID-19.

According to the complaint signed by Bantay Kaban convenor Ryan Serrano Morales, the brothers have been assigning TUPAD slots to individuals in exchange for their services as precinct commanders, warriors, and solid friends of the lawmaker and his younger sibling who is reportedly running as congressman to replace the former.

This, the group claims, is a violation of the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Omnibus Election Code.

Aside from the PCC, the complaint was also filed at the DOLE, Presidential Anti-Corruption Task Force, Department of Interior Local Government and the Office of House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco.



For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com

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