Vaccines as basic commodity

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - January 18, 2021 - 12:00am

As the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic continues to remain a global public health threat, “vaccination passports” would soon be issued. The Philippine government is readying for this foreseen eventuality even when half of the Filipino population indicated they do not wish to be inoculated with anti-COVID vaccines at this stage when the available vaccines are still all under phase 3 clinical trials, according to local surveys.

Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire announced this in her regular virtual press briefing last Friday. Vergeire disclosed the planned “vaccination passport” will certify that its holder had already been immunized against COVID-19 and shall be regarded as part of official travel document.

According to the latest tally of the World Health Organization (WHO), there are already 223 countries and territories impacted by the COVID-19 contagion as of Jan. 15 this year. Currently, the Philippines ranked 32nd among the countries with the highest number of COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, a more highly transmissible COVID-19 variant started plaguing the world. The latest mutation was first detected in the United Kingdom (UK), one of the top five countries with the highest number of COVID cases and is reportedly having a second wave of the contagion.

No less than 33 countries have reportedly confirmed cases of the UK variant. This now included the Philippines after a Filipino returned from a business trip in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and was found positive for UK variant.

According to the WHO, the UK variant is not any deadlier than the original COVID-19 infection and can be neutralized by the same vaccines so far developed against the contagion. Despite this, President Rodrigo Duterte remains worried over the UK variant which he described as another “monster” rearing its ugly face.

Following the WHO alert on the spread of the UK variant, President Duterte approved the recommendations of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) to suspend temporarily travels to and fro UK from Dec. 24 to 31. Subsequently, travel restrictions were extended up to Jan. 31 including other countries that reported UK variant COVID cases.

However, the IATF sees no need to recalibrate the existing “granular” community quarantine restrictions while the Philippines partially and gradually re-opened its international borders amid the pandemic. Vergeire believes it is highly likely that such a global “vaccination passport” may soon become an international requirement for cross-country travels. “I think this will be enforced and when it is widely implemented already, it will be part of protocols to control the borders of each of countries that we have around the globe,” Vergeire surmised.

As early as April 29 last year, this idea first came out prophetically in this column: “Soon, ‘health’ passports.” Reprinted below are the pertinent excerpts of that column.

“Being readied is a proposed measure to implement a ‘health passport’ that would contain a person’s health data to help detect possible ‘carrier’ of COVID-19-infection. This is one of the proposed measures under a ‘new normal’ for travel business following the world’s experience on the COVID-19 contagion.

This proposal was first broached in media interview by Cebu Pacific vice president for marketing and consumer experience Candice Iyog. “A health or immunity passport is among possible measures,” Iyog disclosed. As being mulled by the industry, according to Iyog, the ‘health passports’ can be color-coded to determine whether or not a person can be allowed to clear immigration based on his or her health history.

“We expect COVID-19 will change security screening, wherein health is part of safety and security screening,” Iyog told a recent ANC tele-conference interview. “Definitely, the new normal will be contactless with high digital adoption,” Iyog announced.

As to how the “health passport” will look like and how it will be implemented are still in the works.”

Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat, as a member of the IATF, started the groundworks through consultations with the private sector under the umbrella of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, airline and travel-related industries to iron out mechanics of this proposal now called as “vaccination passport.”

This, despite the Philippines has yet to roll out its own anti-COVID vaccinations.

During his “talk to the people” address after the IATF meeting at Malacañang last Wednesday, President Duterte explained at great lengths the perceived delay in the government’s procurement of anti-COVID vaccines while our immediate country-neighbors like Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand have already rolled out their vaccination program. Citing he is no economist, the President pointed the blame to the “law of supply and demand” that has hampered our country’s failure up to now to acquire available anti-COVID vaccines.

As earlier reported to him by “vaccine czar” Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., President Duterte reiterated as a matter of fact that 80% of the available anti-COVID vaccines were pre-ordered and already paid for by richer countries. Testifying anew before the Senate Committee of the Whole public hearing last Friday on the government’s vaccination program, Galvez curiously revealed to the Senators the price of AstraZeneca but not the Sinovac and other anti-COVID vaccines which he cited have been secured under WHO’s emergency use authority (EUA).

Galvez kept telling the Senators the government – as the procuring party – is bound by the non-disclosure confidentiality agreements with the respective vaccine-makers. But the IATF is also vague as to how to create the demand for anti-COVID vaccines when 50% of Filipinos refuse to get inoculated.

Once these anti-COVID-19 vaccines finally get the WHO go-signal for their commercial use, they become basic commodities in demand. Hence, its price will be market-driven. We can only wish that our bright lawmakers could repeal the law of supply and demand, facetiously that is.

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