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Govt’s Chinese vaccine inept: just give us a fighting chance

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - April 14, 2021 - 12:00am

Science supposedly guides government’s pandemic response. Neither the World Health Organization nor any of 35 states with stringent regulatory agencies has endorsed China COVID-19 vaccines. Sinovac, Sinopharm and CanSino withhold trial results from requisite peer review. Still, on President Duterte’s preference, General Carlito Galvez as “vaccine czar” prioritized them.

Of mere 50-percent efficacy, Sinovac is being injected on health frontliners and the elderly. As it’s the only brand around, Malacañang lawyers overruled drug experts who nixed it for such vulnerable sectors. The 2.5 million donated and paid doses are for 1.25 million vaccinees, two each. Due to unsure future deliveries, jabs are given only once to stretch the supply in contagion hotspots. Efficacy is further reduced to near nil. Wasted is P1.05 billion on 1.5 million purchased doses, P700 apiece. Vaccinees still will be severely infected, to further strain health care resources. Then 126 presidential guards were downed despite (unauthorized) injection with Sinopharm in October.

China’s rare admission this week of poor vaccine efficacy worsens the Philippine dilemma. Gao Fu, head of China’s Center for Disease Control, contemplates various options: combine with mRNA type from the West, alter the doses or intervals, or add a third jab. Meaning, Malacañang may have to take back its belittling of Western brands, or wait for Chinese reformulations, or borrow more for booster shots. Any which way, China can still earn billions of dollars from vaccine sales.

Poor governments make do with China brands because these are partially donated and loaned, politically dictated or contain kickback. (Sinovac has a dark record of bribing Chinese officials for product approval.) Rich countries have cornered 87 percent of Western vaccines. Malacañang could have indented 20 million doses of Pfizer-USA as far back as July 2020 assisted by then-State secretary Mike Pompeo. But, as Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin fumed, “someone dropped the ball.” The Dept. of Health dilly-dallied on customary non-disclosure of proprietary info; Pfizer sold the reserve elsewhere.

Duterte dithered in September about making a down payment to secure Western vaccines. Supposedly the law constrained him. In truth he was referring to an administrative order that he could easily rescind. As pointed up by former justice Antonio Carpio, existing law lets the President approve unlimited advance payments in emergencies and calamities. “In fact, days before Duterte invoked the supposed prohibition, the Office of the President authorized DOH to purchase personal protective equipment and other medical paraphernalia with up to 50-percent advance payment.”

The Philippines has received only one other vaccine, AstraZeneca, 525,600 free vials from Covax-WHO. But DOH last week suspended use of the British-Swedish make. British and European experts found strong links of abdominal and brain clots to the shots. Of 79 cases in Britain, 19 were fatal. Of 86 in Europe, 18 were too. With millions subsequently inoculated everyday, both Britain and Europe’s drug regulators “concluded that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh the potential risk of the clots,” The Economist reports. Still Britain advised another brand for ages 30 and below, the most affected bracket.

Filipinos can’t wait till the third quarter, when Pfizer and Moderna orders from local governments and private firms will arrive. Protracted lockdowns have ruined millions of jobs and hundreds of thousands of small businesses. The economy needs to restart. Hopefully DOH will not block Pfizer anew. Life-threatening allergic reactions have been found – five per million, none of them fatal. No reason to overreact. Doctors know how to deal with them, that’s why vaccinees are made to stick around for 15 minutes to check for adverse effects.

Government’s pandemic responses have been pendulum swings. In February 2020 when the first COVID-19 case and death were reported to be Wuhanese, DOH refused to lock out and likely insult Chinese. Then, as infections spread, began the world’s longest wholesale lockdown. Duterte kept trivializing the crisis by threatening to slap the virus in the face while generals scolded the public to take the pandemic seriously. Slum-dwellers were rounded up for breaking quarantine in shanty homes, while police generals partied and Malacañang officials traveled to tourist resorts and videoke-d in bars without face masks and shields. Malacañang forbade local officials from participation in cash aid but, failing to distribute P27 billion for a year, now gives them 15 days to hand it out or else. It praised health frontlines but falsely accused them of revolution when all they sought was time out to re-strategize.

This is the first pandemic in a century; nobody’s adept at it. But red-tagging activists and squeezing a giant broadcaster and other big businesses are certainly out of sync. More so if those companies are among the biggest charity donors, where government has failed. Asia-Pacific countries are immunizing 24/7. In the Philippines a ceremonial ribbon-cutting inaugurates every new quarantine facility, followed by interminable speeches by Cabinet men. Officials busy themselves coining acronyms like “NCR Plus” to add to “GCQ,” “MGCQ,” “ECQ” and “MECQ.”

The WHO advised from the start to test, trace and isolate. Neighbors Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand did just that, so have kept infections and deaths low. Today Philippine hospitals are begging government to equip vulnerable shanty dwellers with antigen test kits, to no avail. Contact tracing is inexistent. Except for an old Chinese flu medicine, Lian Hua, DOH forbids the dispensing and distribution of “untested” treatments. Approved in many lands, Ivermectin is in limbo in the Philippines.

Duterte said vaccines are the only hope from pandemic. But with government’s vaccine plan a flop, it should at least give Filipinos a fighting chance via other options.

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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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