Anxiety over vaccine delays

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - February 28, 2021 - 12:00am

During the past week, I received a number of calls coming from many of our friends and other people in general, all anxious about when the vaccines will arrive in the Philippines. While it’s true that other Asian countries have already started with their vaccination programs, it’s also a fact that what most of these countries received are the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines from China, like Indonesia for instance. We are told Singapore is the only Asian country that signed agreements with Pfizer and Moderna almost at the same time as western countries.

With the indemnification bill having hurdled both houses of Congress, it’s expected that the purchase and rollout of the vaccines will be expedited. Among the vaccines manufactured by western pharmaceutical companies, the one from AstraZeneca which was secured through the COVAX Facility will be arriving first.

But as the saying goes, there is always a silver lining behind every cloud. And this silver lining in the delay is the fact that there will be more vaccine types and candidates that will become available later in the year. Besides, there are currently variant mutations that are being detected here in the United States – sounding alarm bells that clinical tests for booster shots will now need to be developed as soon as possible.

Moderna is soon coming out with variant-specific booster vaccines aimed at increasing immunity against new COVID-19 variants that have been emerging. The Philippines is finalizing the supply distribution timeline with Moderna, and we can expect it to be done within this week. As for Pfizer, the US Food and Drug Administration says the pharma’s vaccine can now be stored in normal freezer temperatures for two weeks instead of ultra-cold storage facilities.

It should be made clear to everyone, however, that they should not expect these vaccines to act like a silver bullet that can instantly eradicate COVID-19. Experts have warned that this coronavirus is not about to go away soon – at least not in the next five years.

In a January poll conducted by the science journal Nature involving over a hundred immunologists, infectious disease researchers and virologists working on the coronavirus on whether the virus that causes COVID-19 could be eradicated, close to 90 percent believe that the coronavirus could become endemic – meaning “it will continue to circulate in pockets of the global population for years to come.”

It could become similar to the flu virus that has been around for so long and has become common, yet still has to be managed because its effect could be fatal, especially among certain groups of people that are considered as vulnerable. In fact, the flu virus (which has four different types) is considered as one of the top 15 causes of deaths in the US, with seasonal surges or flu seasons running from October to February which is considered a peak month.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 22,000 died during the 2019-2020 flu season that saw 38 million Americans becoming ill. Due to the high mutation rate of the influenza virus, vaccines are “reformulated” every year to provide immunity against new strains. That is also why medical experts recommend having a flu shot every year. This is pretty much what will happen with COVID-19 as well, especially with the new variants that are emerging and perhaps will continue to emerge.

Clearly, having the vaccines will help prevent hospitalization and severe illness due to the coronavirus, but we still have to continue to wear masks, maintain social distancing and practice hand washing and other hygiene protocols so that we can effectively achieve that level where immunity will become worldwide and the virus manageable.

What is important is that the vaccines will help control the transmission rate and prevent the further spread of the virus, which we have been doing through the imposition of lockdowns. Because the economy has suffered extensively, we need to relax the quarantine measures and balance it with the vaccine rollout.

Let’s not also forget that we have a lot of overseas workers who will soon be going out of the country again. Actually, there are clear indications that the overseas workers deployed in various parts of the world caused major infections when they came home. So it is significantly important that our OFWs have protection when they leave for abroad again.

Our stringent procurement laws have made it difficult for government to purchase supplies to protect against corruption. But now, learning from this pandemic, presidential emergency powers are needed during times like this so the president can decide unilaterally, like what they did in Singapore and also Israel, which were able to quickly make the decision to secure the vaccines and inoculate the population – resulting in impressive, close to local herd immunity figures.

The US is aggressively ramping up vaccine production and has also committed $4 billion for the COVAX Facility which is targeting 2 billion doses for worldwide distribution. Meantime, we continue to double up meetings with other leading pharma companies here in the United States like Johnson & Johnson to make additional vaccines available in our country.

We totally understand the anxiety experienced by our people. All of us have been through a year where we practically became prisoners in our own homes. But that sacrifice is not for naught as it helps in saving ourselves and others from dying. I know many of us want “instant gratification,” but the light at the end is close. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow – the vaccines will come.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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