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Too little — too late

CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - March 1, 2021 - 12:00am

The welcome reception for the 600,000 doses of China-made vaccines comes across as a clear case of celebrating what at this stage of the game is “too little – too late.” While the rest of our neighbors in the region already got their vaccines and have started real and actual vaccination programs, the Philippine government has done nothing but talk and raise hopes, but in reality relies largely on the desperation or initiative of the private sector and local government officials. To its credit, the one thing the administration has successfully achieved is to confuse people about vaccines and erode public confidence regarding vaccines and vaccinations.

Time and again in our interviews on AGENDA, our TV program on Cignal TV, various opinion leaders have shared that the public or their constituents are either split or on a 60/40 divide regarding the efficacy of vaccines as well as willingness to be vaccinated. Recently, Tommy Osmeña, the veteran political leader from Cebu City, told us that many of the Cebuanos he spoke with are reluctant to be vaccinated against COVID-19. “This is a clear sign of public distrust in the government.” Before our readers turn the statement into a political brawl, I must say that as far as everything that the Duterte administration and its talking heads have said about COVID vaccines are concerned, I have to agree with Tommy Osmeña.

Many people have repeatedly pointed out that the Duterte administration should have launched a medically based public information program on the many benefits of vaccination and campaign forcefully for the COVID vaccines instead of campaigning for popularity and self-promotion or assigning the task to talking-heads who are neither doctors, virologists nor are consistent in their statements, particularly the facts on how many and how soon the country will get the vaccines. In the beginning of the vaccine talks and promises, the government spoke about 70 million doses, then it was ramped up to double that because the vaccines are mostly a double dose application, so how on earth did we go from millions from various suppliers to 600,000 from China, 100,000 from Pfizer/ sorry but the China-made vaccine can’t be administered to frontliners and seniors, says the FDA / and oh we’re now in talks with India except the town where Philippine government officials are going to just got locked down. Nuts! For people who have monopolized “Zoom meetings” and on-line press conferences, it makes you wonder what difference a “factory visit” can do that a Zoom conference or calling the Indian diplomats to Malacañang can’t achieve. Why place Filipino officials and staff at great risk by traveling abroad? That is so geriatric and jurassic.

You can talk about global demand and competition out-positioning the Philippines, but that excuse gets flushed down the toilet when we hear of how Indonesia and other Asian neighbors already got their vaccines. You can talk about bureaucratic and legislative processes if the Executive department and the legislature are politically opposed but far from it, Congress is only too willing to give emergency powers and emergency legislation to short cut or by-pass the traditional checks and balance and legislative safeguards. The fact that the Food and Drug Administration has rolled over and risked future law suits by issuing Emergency Use Authorization proves that there is no reason why the Philippines should get left behind or end up extending a begging bowl or leverage quotas for nurses as an incentive for giving the Philippines a plane load of vaccines. Even claiming that the government was unaware of an “Indemnification clause” or requirement is either absurd ignorance or an outright lie. Local health experts and DOH officials are all in the know of the “Indemnification clause”. A statement even came out last week that the “Indemnification clause” is not limited to Pfizer but is a standard requirement by other vaccine manufacturers and is in effect in other countries.

To avoid any wrong impressions that this is merely pure criticism or rant, I just want to stress that I point out the contradictions or flaws in the statements of national government officials because it is evidence that government communicators don’t do their homework, are too glib and ultimately end up contradicting themselves and, worst of all, Filipinos are getting “kwento” or spin instead of vaccines. However few by comparison our mortality rate from COVID-19 may be, Filipinos are still dying everyday. Thousands more are getting sick daily and worse than COVID, millions of lives are affected or ruined as the government’s lockdown policies shut down the economy. If all that isn’t bad enough, we now have a situation where the government has lost public trust, specifically with the most important solution to our single biggest health crisis. This issue or concern is not political or personality related, it is a serious public interest concern that should be and must be addressed.

First and foremost, leave the talking on actual health issues to medical experts trained and experienced in public information and dialogue. Limit all discussion, dialogues and presentation to medical scientific facts, figures and timelines. Do not engage haters or anti-vaccine groups, stick to the historical success and safety of vaccines. Back the chosen or designated presenter with massive public information campaigns that enlist, implore and incentivize the private sector and public figures to come on board and campaign for COVID vaccines.

Last but not the least: TELL THE TRUTH.

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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