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Roll out the vials

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - March 1, 2021 - 12:00am

Unless as many Filipinos first get inoculated against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) contagion, President Rodrigo Duterte rejected fresh initiatives to resume face-to-face classes in both elementary and secondary schools all over the country. While there is no vaccination rolled out on the ground, President Duterte also withheld for now recommendations by his economic managers to ease the nationwide quarantine restrictions.

The President all turned down these recommendations during last week’s Cabinet meeting at Malacañang. Most of the Cabinet members are also part of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID). A day after the Malacañang meeting, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexi Nograles announced in a virtual press conference the twin decisions of the President on these recommendations respectively submitted by the Department of Education and the National Economic and Development Authority.

Had these recommendations been approved, they are supposed to take effect starting this month. “The President said: ‘There’s a time for everything,” Nograles quoting the Chief Executive having told his Cabinet officials. In trying to explain what the President wants to happen and meant to convey, Nograles surmised: “There’s a step-by-step process that we need to do here.”

Methinks, otherwise. We’ve initially heard this philosophical view from the former Davao City Mayor during the first few weeks after he assumed office at Malacañang in June 2016. More than philosophy in life, the President reverts to Ecclesiastes 3 whenever confronted with daunting affairs of the state that seemingly shrouds his vision for the country.

Ecclesiastes 3 is the third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. The book contains philosophical speeches composed probably between 5th to 2nd century BC by a character called “Qoheleth.”What does the biblical passage says?

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to search and a time to give up; a time to keep and a time to throw away; a time to tear and a time to mend; a time to be silent and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.”

Meeting again the IATF at Malacañang two days later, a visibly frustrated President Duterte could only heaved aloud a sigh of extreme disappointment; “Hay buhay…(What a life.)” It was apparently a compendium of his woes one after the other with additional problems that the country faces amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One of which was attending to the flood onslaught caused by typhoon “Auring” in Surigao.

Nograles revealed the President did not hold though any of his Cabinet members accountable for the delay in the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in the country. As co-chairman of the IATF, he believed the President “understands” that the Philippines is “at the receiving end of these vaccines.”

But everyone else is on the same boat, except for the few countries that produced the vaccines.

Our neighboring countries from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) already rolled out their anti-COVID vaccinations to their respective peoples, some either purchased or mostly donated by China. Others actually got their vaccinations rolled out much earlier as follows: Indonesia (Dec. 6); Singapore (Dec. 21); Myanmar (Jan. 22); Cambodia (Feb. 7); Laos (Feb. 8); Brunei (Feb. 11); Malaysia (Feb. 20); Thailand and Vietnam (Feb. 24).

So, out of the ten-member states of the ASEAN, the Philippines is the last to roll out its vaccination program which kicks off today. This we are finally doing now with the arrival yesterday of the 600,000 doses of Sinovac donated, too, by Beijing. It came about a few days after our Food and Drugs Administration issued the emergency use authority (EUA) to Sinovac.

And expected to arrive today in Manila are 525,600 doses of Oxford University-developed vaccines from the AstraZeneca of Sweden. These were part of donations under the COVAX Facility of the World Health Organization (WHO) for low-income COVID-impacted countries like the Philippines.

Like all other anti-COVID vaccines recognized by the WHO, both Sinovac and AstraZeneca are still on phase 3 clinical trials. Hence, these vaccine makers required an indemnification clause to protect themselves from liability and suits in case of “adverse events” or unexpected side effects of their vaccines.

President Duterte has already signed into law last Friday the indemnity bill allocating a P500-million fund to pay vaccinees who may suffer such after inoculation. The two chambers of the 18th Congress approved one after the other last week – albeit in haste – their respective proposed bills on the Emergency Vaccination Law of 2021. This was after the President certified it as urgent administration bill to facilitate its approval into law without further delay.

To the credits of the House of Representatives, they decided to set aside their own version under House Bill (HB) 8648 and instead adopted the entire version of the Senate Bill (SB) in order to do away with the bicameral conference committee.

All Senators voted unanimously for its approval into law. This prompted Senate majority leader Miguel Zubiri to congratulate his colleagues and wisecracked: “Because we’re probably the first country in the world to legislate vaccine procurement and implementation – without a single vaccine yet.”

Presumably, everything is now in place to carry out the initial vaccination campaign of our country. The timing could not be any better than now. Time to roll out the vials.

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