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Positive news amidst difficulties

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - April 18, 2021 - 12:00am

What’s happening in many parts of Europe is showing us that the COVID-19 pandemic is not going away anytime soon, with countries such as France, Italy and Germany imposing lockdowns due to the continued high number of infections. The World Health Organization has described the situation in the region as “serious,” with about 160 people testing positive for coronavirus every single minute.

According to experts, the “third wave” of infections in Europe is being driven by the variant first identified in the UK which is more infectious, compounded by the fact that vaccination rollout has been slow due to supply issues. The continued emergence of coronavirus variants is causing worldwide concern among public health officials, fearing that the current vaccines will be less effective.

But the good news is that both Moderna and Pfizer have already started clinical trials for a booster shot designed to increase immunity from emerging variants including the so-called South Africa variant that is deemed to be even more contagious than the original strain. During one of my meetings with Moderna, they told me they are hopeful the booster vaccines will be available by fall. Additionally, they also said the booster vaccine may be used even after being vaccinated by other brands – which is really good news. Clearly, experts have confirmed that booster shots will be needed every year just like the flu shot.

I also received confirmation from Moderna that the delivery of the 20 million vaccine doses we secured will start by the second week of June, with the delivery bumped up exponentially starting in July to September up to the last quarter of this year. I am also recommending to the IATF that we start lining up our order for the booster vaccines.

The long delayed 117,000 Pfizer vaccines through the COVAX facility with an additional 2.3 million for delivery is expected to arrive starting May through August. We are in the process of negotiating separately an additional 40 million Pfizer doses for delivery up to the end of this year.

I recently met with Loida Nicolas-Lewis and Eric Lachica and separately, Jerry Perez de Tagle – all Filipino-American community leaders who have joined the effort of other Fil-Am groups in urging the US government in speeding up delivery of vaccines to the Philippines. We are pleased to see many Filipino-American associations with different political persuasions banding together and pitching in to help our country.

We broached to Moderna the idea of using the Philippines as a potential distribution point for the Asian market. Specifically, I suggested the New Clark City which is also a major FedEx hub. Undoubtedly, it would make sense for Moderna to use Clark as a distribution center for the Asian market.

We all need to accept the fact that there is no silver bullet that can eradicate the pandemic overnight, with scientists admitting that the coronavirus will be around from anywhere between three to five years until worldwide herd immunity is achieved. This is evident with the current situation in Europe, Asia and even in the United States where some states are currently experiencing high infection rates.

Health experts also point to Chile, which was hit by a “perfect storm” that can be attributed to several factors, like the low level of effectiveness (50.4 percent) of the vaccine that was widely used in the country; the haste in reopening schools; the crowding in malls during the Christmas holidays; the easing of travel restrictions and the people’s failure to consistently practice minimum health protocols such as mask wearing, handwashing and social distancing.

But even as the world continues to grapple with the devastating effects of the pandemic, we cannot and should not despair. We continue to have faith that there will be an end to this. For our part, we will continue working to help in our country’s economic recovery, especially since we have partners who are supportive of our efforts.

This support was very evident during the recent virtual economic briefing that our embassy in Washington jointly organized with the US-ASEAN Business Council, and participated in by US and Philippine government officials led by Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, as well as representatives from top US and Filipino companies that include IBM, Coca-Cola, Fluor Corporation, Jollibee, PLDT and AC Industrial Technology.

During the forum, US International Development Finance Corporation chief operating officer David Marchick expressed a high level of interest to invest in infrastructure in the Philippines, saying they want to do more to drive economic growth in the country. USAID acting administrator Dr. Gloria Steele also announced that the agency will provide $3.5 million to further support the Philippines in delivering vaccines received from the COVAX Facility.

During the virtual briefing, US Trade and Development Agency acting director Enoh Ebong and Transportation Secretary Art Tugade together with Secretary Dominguez virtually signed the grant for the Metro Cebu Intelligent Transportation System master plan that would help reduce traffic congestion and improve mobility in the Cebu metropolitan area in support of the Philippines’ sustainable recovery efforts.

As this year marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the United States, the virtual briefing also served to highlight the strong partnership between both countries – which is significant because the only way we can overcome the unprecedented challenges brought about by the pandemic is by working together and turning these challenges into opportunities for positive change.

As one friend told me – “Kailangan meron tayong pananalig dahil may katapusan din ito.” We need to keep the faith because this, too, will come to pass.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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