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Et sic incipit

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - December 19, 2020 - 12:00am

When the story of COVID-19 gets told, one way to tell it would be through milestones. Medical, economic, social, political, personal. We are affected as a human race but we do experience the pandemic individually. And it’s the milestones we remember and celebrate.

As critical as the what, when and how of the virus is the where from and who for of the vaccine. The announcements from Big Pharma on the availability of their vaccines were applauded. Milestone. It was truly poetic that in the world’s first official vaccination, it was a Filipina nurse that administered the shot. That powerful image of nurse May Parsons expertly handling the inoculation of Margaret Keenan in the UK was an affirmation of the Filipino’s position as safe space and health care provider to the world. Milestone.

At home, as everywhere, debates on chimeric vaccine safety and who gets to go first dominate the discourse. These decisions are not easy. WHO has made it clear that there is no recommendation for mandatory vaccination. Each country will determine its own policy.

The policy of supply and demand. Whether mandated or voluntary and even with a pecking order, for as long as there are vaccines available, there will be a race to procure. What allegedly happened in Binondo is a portent locally of what is happening globally. Black market, grey market, the haves will have more and the have nots, less. The statistics we’ve been reading on COVID-19 should include a new category: number of billionaires created. And so it begins.

Manila Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso was right to investigate the Binondo operation for being the bootleg endeavor that it was, if proven true. To date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not licensed any vaccine distributor. If you’ve been inoculated, what you got was a contraband dose. Yes, we’ve heard countless stories of the rich and famous (remember the senators?) securing their golden tickets this early.

President Roa Duterte’s Executive Order provides guidance on the grant of Emergency Use Authority (EUA) by the FDA. Milestone. But to date, two weeks after the release of the EO, FDA head Eric Domingo confirms there are no applicants yet.

Messiah or may sayang? No one is rushing to get accredited in the Philippines. But they should already.  AstraZeneca has already been contracted for more than 3 million doses, paid for by the private sector. The sharing is 1.5 million for the government while 1.5 million doses will be retained by the big businesses. The vaccines are expected in May or June. The Pfizer option is in the middle of that “drop the ball” autopsy. Sen. Ping Lacson has served up the head of Health Sec. Francisco Duque for Sec. Teddy Boy Locsin’s ball bearings. Sec. Duque’s “sin” is in failing to make a timely submission of the Confidentiality Disclosure Agreement (even with all the lawyers of government at his disposal). The “wage” to us is the loss, or best case the delay, of 10 million doses. We could have been first in Asia, even before Singapore, to lock in a Pfizer allocation.

Gun-shy v. trigger happy. But Sec. Duque, backed by vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr., insists that there was no such guarantee of 10 million doses. And if he did take his time, it was out of an abundance of caution, for all our sakes, as Secretary Locsin, Ambassador to Washington Babe Romualdez and Senator Lacson wouldn’t. He did finally sign, more than three weeks after the responsibility landed on his desk. According to him, he had to review again corrections already vetted by the Office of the Executive Secretary and the DOST. In the end he still felt them one sided but he signed anyway! These interim decisions, in the context of urgency, are matters that the coming Senate hearing will judge. As it is, instead of having the Pfizer vaccines by January, the earliest we get them is July.

Just yesterday, the dogged Ambassador Romualdez confirmed dibs on up to 25 million doses of Moderna and/or Arcturus vaccines, both from the US, also by July. We do have that buffer of 25 million from Sinovac of China. But the same is still in limbo, again with no contract. And, if signed, the deal is for March or April. So, the earliest roll out is really the second quarter of 2021.

There is the prospect of even earlier access if we close a deal with Gamaleya of Russia for the Sputnik vaccine. This looks to be the most promising of all deals on the table, in terms of immediacy. But with no contract, no guarantees. But even if we add all of the above to our vaccine pool, they are still subject to issuance of the EUA. So, file the applications already.

With all these vaccines available, the tragedy is that none are immediately within reach. The UK, US, Singapore, Indonesia are already starting but we’re still at face shields.

Best of 2020. Golfer Yuka Saso validated our faith by staying in contention in the US Women’s Open last weekend. When the smoke cleared, she managed to nail 13th spot in this, the most prestigious, competitive and oldest of all major tournaments. It was inspiring to see our flag keeping pace atop the leaderboard with those of golf’s super powers: South Korea, US, Japan and Europe. Our Filipina champion impressed with her swing and her resilience.

She is not the first to place in the US Women’s Open. Jennifer Rosales placed a high 4th in 2004; Fil-Am Dorothy Delasin was 12th in 2000. These ladies, both multiple winners on the US LPGA, also brought home pride and honor. But none of them were rookies like Saso is. It has been a magical year for this ultra-humble, now multi-millionaire, Bulacan wonder. This experience at the Champions course in Houston should be appreciated for its worth in educational gold as it prepares Yuka Saso to scale the heights of world golf.

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