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Must we wait for vaccines?

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - February 24, 2021 - 12:00am

Last Saturday, our Department of Health (DOH) recorded 239 deaths for that day alone all directly related to the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infection. Based from daily monitoring of the COVID-related cases of our OneNewsPh, this was the second highest death toll per day from the COVID-19 pandemic that happened in our country since the 254 deaths tallied in September last year. But one dead is one dead too many.

Two days later in New York, Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations (UN) spoke at the opening of the 46th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council and severely castigated vaccine-makers for their failure to ensure “universal access” to their life-saving antidotes against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The latest moral outrage is the failure to ensure equity in vaccination efforts. Just ten countries have administered more than 75 percent of all COVID-19 vaccines,” the UN chief bewailed. Guterres pointed obliquely to the European Union (EU), the United States (US), and other countries that have restricted the deployment of anti-COVID vaccines and reserve them first to their respective people.

Guterres sought to underscore: “Vaccine equity affirms human rights. Vaccine nationalism denies it. Vaccines must be a global public good, accessible and affordable for all.” Actually, as early as in October last year Guterres already made this call for “universal access” of COVID-19 vaccines at the UN General Assembly held also in New York.

Much earlier also on Jan.18, Dr. Tedros Adhandom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), had already called attention to the inequitable roll out of anti-COVID vaccines to low income COVID-impacted countries. The recent emergence of rapidly spreading variants makes the rapid and equitable rollout of vaccines all the more important, the WHO chief stressed.

“But we now face the real danger that even as vaccines bring hope to some, they become another brick in the wall of inequality between the world’s haves and have-nots,” Ghebreyesus deplored.

The WHO chief revealed they earlier have secured 2 billion doses from five producers, with options on more than 1 billion more doses under the COVAX Facility. “And we aim to start deliveries in February,” he disclosed. But as the first vaccines begin to be deployed, he noted, the promise of equitable access remained a promise. Of the more than 39 million doses of vaccine that have been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries, the WHO chief wryly noted: “Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country. Not 25 million; not 25 thousand; just 25.”

“I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” the WHO chief warned. The WHO chief further chastised some countries and companies continue to prioritize bilateral deals. “Going around COVAX, driving up prices, and attempting to jump to the front of the queue. This is wrong,” he fumed.

As of that day, he noted, there were 44 bilateral deals that were signed last year, and at least 12 have already been signed this year. Greyebresus accused most vaccine manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries “where the profits are highest, rather than submitting full dossiers to WHO.”

Thus, it was no surprise the anti-COVID vaccine deliveries that the WHO earlier notified Philippines authorities to receive middle of this month from the COVAX Facility did not materialize. The WHO chief’s warning that this would create exactly the scenario COVAX was designed to avoid such as hoarding, a chaotic market, an uncoordinated response, and continued social and economic disruption are now happening.

This fits this year’s WHO theme for World Health Day: Health Inequality.

The WHO chief could only appeal to the world leaders and all Member States to ensure that by the time World Health Day arrives on the 7th of April, COVID-19 vaccines are already being administered in every country.

Sadly, we can only share the growing impatience of many Filipinos to get to the so-called “new normal” way of living safely in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the first doses of the anti-COVID vaccines have yet to arrive in our country, we could only look around our neighbors in Asia-Pacific that have already rolled out their vaccination to control the spread of the contagion.

The fact is, the Philippines has the highest recorded COVID-related deaths in the entire Asia-Pacific region, according to the WHO monitoring. Our country’s COVID deaths are even higher than those of China where the contagion first broke out and reached our shores in January last year when Chinese travelled to celebrate their Lunar New Year with their families in the Philippines and elsewhere in the world.

On monthly basis, the research/informatics done by OneNewsPh came up with a breakdown of reported COVID-19 deaths. On the average day-to-day COVID-19 deaths, the graphics indicated the highest rate reached 59%, or 142 deaths average recorded for the entire January, 2021. This could very well be attributed to the post Christmas-New Year holiday celebrations when safety and health protocols like social distancing to avoid getting COVID-19 infection were compromised by family reunions and party gatherings.

At this early, the entire month of February has showed COVID-related deaths might likely equal, if not shoot up more than the previous month’s tally. During the Chinese Lunar New Year last Feb.12 and Valentine’s on Feb.14, the usual family and party gatherings again took place despite many parts of the country even while we are under general community quarantine (GCQ) restrictions.

Thus, President Duterte decided Monday to reject the easing to modified GCQ and resumption of face-to-face classes until the vaccines are rolled out in the Philippines.

Given these world realities, must we still remain in quarantine while the anti-COVID vaccines have yet to arrive here?

COVID-19 DOH
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