The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. - The Philippine Star

The Good. Thanks to our scientists, the foreign governments and philanthropic foundations that financed research and development, we now have vaccines at warp speed (the record was four years for the mumps). The world’s leaders are getting inoculated. We applaud the news bits of the odd one or two Filipinos who happen to receive the vaccine abroad or who administer them as May Parsons did to the first recipient ever in the UK. We are all on edge, awaiting our turn.

Which vaccine is best? Do we have the right to be choosy? Why insist on the high cost, low effectivity variant? When do we get it? The debates rage on. 95 percent vs 50 percent aren’t the only figures that should concern us. There is the equally complex technical and logistical problem of how the vaccines, when they get here, will find our arms. How fast can we get inoculated before we are overrun? Even the least effective of the vaccines, if rolled out quickly enough, will diminish the effects of the pandemic

One reason for the national government’s centralized procurement is the need for centralized distribution. Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sinovac et. al., their roles end when the vaccine is produced. Transport, storage, distribution, handling, administration – these next steps are links in a last mile “cold chain,” with cold being the operative word.

There are peculiar requirements per vaccine. The most complicated being Pfizer’s and Moderna’s condition of negative temperature cold storage. Hence, according to vaccine czar Gen. Carlito Galvez, locales farthest from metropolitan areas will likely rely on the most hardy of the vaccines – AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax which can be handled using standard refrigeration capacity.

The Bad. The logistical challenge of distribution is a problem solver’s dream. The scale of the operation is unprecedented. It starts when the vaccines arrive, by air, and are transferred to the central distribution centers in Manila, Cebu, Davao and other major airports. The IATF, in cooperation with the several LGUs whose initiatives galvanized an earlier rollout, should now be modelling and doing dry runs on getting from hangar to vaccine depot to refrigerated truck to ultimate storage facility per LGU or government medical center. Alternately, they scoot directly to the administration sites like schools or vaccination hubs to be determined. All the queueing, registrations, storage issues in between are matters to be sorted out by organizational experts.

The actual vaccine administration will take months. Expect assembly lines depending on how large the venue and the number of staff. Prepare elaborate schedules for priority groups and, as we’re learning from abroad, anticipate contingencies in case appointments don’t show up. A ticklish question here are the multi dose vials (these ended up being wasted doses in US and UK locations). Pfizer’s vials have 5, AstraZeneca 8-10, Moderna up to 10. Once opened, the vials have a short shelf life.

It’s reassuring that our health workers, so long on the frontlines and who continue to lead the fight, may start receiving their shots as early as next month. Pfizer already has its Emergency Use Authorization. By March, they may already have received second doses en route to immunity.

This focus on a cohesive management of our vaccination strategy is fueled by experiences from abroad, including from the US itself, where lags in the roll out occured in several areas because of logistical planning failures.

The Ugly. There are just over 65 days from the time Joe Biden, the rest of the world and Donald Trump learned who won the 2020 US presidential election until next Wednesday’s inauguration. These could have been two months and five days of unparalleled opportunity for President Trump to do good. The office of President of the United States is the most powerful political office in the world. Every moment the holder is given the privilege to wield its mighty prerogatives, there is an immense amount of service he can deliver to his public.

Whether compelled by legacy mindset or pure altruism, it’s a shot that not many get. Instead, we’ve seen this incumbent throw away his shot. He is considering preemptive pardons for his aides, family and himself. And his self-interested perspective and refusal to accept his election loss fueled the further polarization of the country, culminating in the infamous 1/6 siege of the Capitol. Now, he is being asked to pardon the rioters.

America’s economic and political hegemony has barely ever succeeded in masking the deep social cleavages that burden its “pluralist” society at home. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who articulated the concept of the Two Americas, signifying the racial and economic divide. In modern history, US leadership has worked toward harmonizing that division. The 1/6 incident shone a mirror on how “successful” they’ve been.

Post mortem, the siege is acknowledged as much for its audacity as it was for the paradigmatic reaction of local police against the rioters. The sense is someone dropped the ball. This must qualify as the one of most public and telegraphed planned illegal assemblies, yet the administration’s failed law enforcement agencies remained spectacularly clueless and slow to act. It was a stark contrast to the iron hand policy in the Black Lives Matter protests.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and social media platforms, which President Trump had converted into his bully pulpit’s pulpits, amazingly exercised even-handed self-regulation in banning further presidential posts. The action, though lauded universally, has implications on freedom of expression, privacy and public interest. We anticipate the incoming Congress to address this tension as part of the legislative agenda.

Right now, President Trump is disgraced. And impeached, a second time. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called him a clear and present danger to the nation. Congress did not falter when they did not let themselves be bullied from performing their constitutional duty last 1/6 and when they did not let this high crime escape constitutional consequence.

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