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Vaccinations kick off amid politicking, puzzling report

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - March 3, 2021 - 12:00am

Sunday, Feb. 28, was a big day for Malacañang. Its COVID-19 mass vaccination kicked off at last. Six hundred thousand doses from Sinovac of China arrived in Manila. President Duterte no less accepted the donation. The Philippines became the tenth country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to start inoculating against the pandemic. ASEAN has ten members.

The 600,000 are for 300,000 vaccinees, at two jabs each. Malacañang aims to procure 140 million doses, to immunize 70 million Filipinos. The 600,000 is 0.4 percent of target. Later deliveries are yet unsure.

Injections followed the next day. Prioritized were frontline health workers at COVID-19 centers, particularly Philippine General Hospital. The queue was orderly. Majority of registrants gave up their place. They had expected to be jabbed with 95-percent efficacious Pfizer, not Sinovac with only 50.4 percent efficacy. Ignored was the Palace spokesman’s earlier call to not be choosy. The press outnumbered the vaccinees.

The 600,000 jabs were a surprise from China’s army. The supposed donee Armed Forces of the Philippines probably didn’t expect it. There was no such previous publicity. China state news agency Xinhua simply announced: “Beijing (Feb. 28) – The Chinese People’s Liberation Army on Sunday delivered a batch of COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippine military at the latter’s request and with approval of the Central Military Commission, said China’s Ministry of National Defense. The PLA previously delivered vaccines requested by the Pakistani, Cambodian and Mongolian armed forces.”

Duterte said Beijing did not ask for anything in return for the vaccines. Beijing also did not ask when it grabbed a Philippine shoal in 2012, concreted seven reefs starting 2013 and blockaded a cay in 2017. Its PLA just went ahead and installed airstrips, missiles and naval bases on the reefs. From there the PLA and its maritime militia menace Filipino fishermen and oil explorers in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. While warning Beijing against any more aggression, Washington reassured Manila of readiness under the 1951 Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty. Duterte in turn demanded 20 million vaccines for continuance of the pact.

Curiously, in Vietnam a pharmaceutical firm has begun second stage trials for a homegrown coronavirus vaccine. “[It’s] an important step toward Hanoi’s goal of vaccine independence from China amid rising territorial tensions between the countries,” noted Nikkei Asia. “If trials are successful, Nanogen Biotechnology’s vaccine is expected to be approved for emergency use as early as May. A quick rollout is crucial for Vietnam, which seeks to keep Beijing from exerting influence through its so-called vaccine diplomacy in Southeast Asia.” Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc is closely monitoring developments. Through targeted street lockdowns instead of wholesale, Vietnam’s COVID-19 infections and deaths are but a fraction of the Philippines’.

Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque gaily played politics amid vital inoculations to restart the economy. He gushed Saturday about joining the Inday Cares Volunteers. The group aims to “convince” presidential daughter Sara “Inday” Duterte-Carpio to run as her father’s successor in Election 2022. Images are circulating in social media of “Run, Inday, Run” tarps being mass printed, posted in public and motorcaded by flashy sports cars. Yet Roque twitted Vice President Leni Robredo for “politicking” in volunteering to be vaccinated in public if only to lessen Filipinos’ hesitancy.

Science, not politics, is why most health workers shun Sinovac. In issuing an emergency use authorization for the China brand, the Food and Drug Administration set two caveats. One, not suitable for doctors, nurses and lab technicians often exposed to the virus. Two, OK for healthy 18- to 59-year-olds. A survey at the PGH mid-February showed 94 percent willingness to be injected, the Physicians Association said. But when news came that only Sinovac was to be used, 95 percent backed out.

The doctors declared: “PGH-PA stands firm that Sinovac, despite being the only vaccine at hand, should undergo appraisal by the Health Technology Assessment Council to facilitate individual informed decision-making before it is administered to health care workers... As the national university hospital, PGH should set an example on how vaccination rollout should be executed in the country. PGH should uphold the ideals of ethical and evidence-based medicine, of which it has been a bastion.” Stated differently, lawyers shouldn’t play doctor.

Now Sinovac is to be used on Filipino soldiers. They have no civil rights, like free vaccine choice. The US military hesitates to do that for a mere EUA jab, due to bad experience. In the 1990s, it mandated anthrax shots against the terrorists’ biological weapon. Eighty-five percent of vaccinees suffered serious adverse effects. None of the 35 countries with stringent regulatory authorities has green-lighted Sinovac.

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“Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” is available as e-book and paperback. Get a free copy of “Chapter 1: Beijing’s Bullying and Duplicity”. Simply subscribe to my newsletter at: https://jariusbondoc.com/#subscribe. Book orders also accepted there.

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