It’s really plain commonsense

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2020 - 12:00am

What happens when one of the country’s top corporate chief executive officers (CEO) and a retired Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) work together? Their joint mission: To gain access to supply of vaccines for the Philippines in the battle against the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Thanks to this team-up of the corporate CEO and president and the retired five-star AFP General, our access to a much cheaper, safe and with guaranteed efficacy of anti-COVID vaccine was secured from Astra-Zeneca of United Kingdom (UK). As much as 2.6 million doses of this vaccine would initially be procured for 1.5 million of Filipinos funded by private business sector donors under a tripartite agreement signed last week. Hopefully, it would be available in the Philippines by May, 2021 at the latest.

This was the output of the team-up of Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion, and National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 “chief implementer” of the National Action Plan and designated “vaccine czar” Carlito Galvez Jr. The duo is among the advisers of President Rodrigo Duterte in the government’s fight to cut the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic all over the country.

They worked out the tripartite agreement with Astra-Zeneca representatives here in the country. Concepcion is the president and CEO of RFM Corp., a conglomerate of popular food products. Despite his busy schedule in their family business empire, Concepcion has been actively involved in private sector-led rapid testing of COVID-19 infection to assist the government in controlling the transmission of COVID-19 infection all over the country.

Galvez, on the other hand, is the head of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPPAP) where President Duterte appointed him to the Cabinet following his retirement as AFP chief of staff in December, 2018. On March 24 this year a few days after the government imposed the hard lockdown to contain the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Duterte gave Galvez a concurrent assignment as NTF chief implementer. Subsequently, the President added another job for Galvez on Nov. 5 to be solely in-charge for the procurement for anti-COVID vaccine. Thus, he earned the monicker “vaccine czar.”

Both presidential advisers are also members of President Duterte’s Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID). Guesting in our weekly Zoom Webinar of the Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday, both Galvez and Concepcion expressed their confidence and optimism that the Philippines will not be left behind in acquiring the vaccines developed by multinational pharma companies across the globe.

Zainab Sadat, president and general manager of the Philippine branch of another UK-based pharma GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Plc also joined us in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay. Sadat announced in our virtual news forum GSK would soon unveil their own adjuvant-based COVID vaccine collaboration with Sanofi of France and other pharma companies around the world.

“The sooner we get the vaccines here, the earlier we can open again our economy. The country will get more confidence that is needed so that the Filipino people will hold on and have hope,” Concepcion explained.

This why the acquisition of the vaccines is called as “a dose of hope,” Concepcion quipped.

Concepcion credited his fellow business leader, Tessie Sy-Coson, vice chairman of the SM Investments Corp. as the one who started the ball rolling. According to him, Coson found out about the “offer” made by Astra-Zeneca’s “zero profit” program where less developed countries like the Philippines can secure access to their anti-COVID vaccine.

Followed through by Concepcion, he was able to gather fellow corporate CEOs to sign a tripartite deal with the government and Astra-Zeneca where the private sector donated the advance payment for $5 per dose of their anti-COVID vaccine for the Philippines. This deposit guarantees the supply of their COVID-19 vaccine candidate even while it is still under phase 3 of clinical trials required by the WHO.

The government is negotiating with AstraZeneca for additional 1 million doses, Galvez revealed. According to him, he is also in various stages of negotiations with five other vaccine-makers on government-to-government basis. As the “vaccine czar,” Galvez is also negotiating with representatives of Sinovac and Sinopharma of China; Sputnik-5 of Russia’s Gamaleya; Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson of the United States; and Nonavax of India.

This is why, Galvez admitted, he counts a lot on the “diplomatic capital” of President Duterte’s very warm relations with China, Russia, India and the US to get these vaccines. Galvez noted wealthy nations have cornered already “more than 80 percent” of the potential vaccines while the COVID-19 global vaccine alliance called as COVAX got 2 percent. This leaves 18 percent of the supply up for grabs, he rued, for the Philippines and other poor countries.

Concepcion likened to military weapons the vaccines and the reversed transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) used to test COVID-19 infection. “The vaccine is our nuclear warhead. The testing is the machine gun. But the one that kills the virus is the nuclear warhead. So let’s go for it…So both will be used and then we will win in the war (against the pandemic),” Concepcion pointed out.

“The vaccine is the solution. It’s the cure. Mas mahal pa ang ating RT-PCR dito sa vaccine. Why don’t we put the money in the vaccine…Let’s put our money that will give the solution,” he urged.

“I’m not a general. Secretary Galvez is a general. But I’m just using my plain common sense in warfare, being in the private sector. How do we beat the competition? That is how we find the way to completion (of the mission),” Concepcion enthused.

I was too grateful for the businessman’s inadvertent “advertising” my Commonsense column in his impassioned push of these anti-COVID measures.

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