How will an expensive Covid-19 vaccination help our country’s poor?

How will an expensive Covid-19 vaccination help our country’s poor?

This is what life is like in the Philippines amid one of the world’s toughest coronavirus lockdowns.

The Chinese are not lacking in brains. The Chinese are bright. They would not

venture (into producing vaccines) if it is not safe, sure and secure.

— President Rodrigo Roa Duterte

We are heading for a graded rollout of Covid-19 vaccination expected to begin in the middle of next month, but the million-dollar question remains: will administering a vaccine in haste and just as a token do more damage than the pandemic itself? 

And how is rolling out the vaccination program justified and why would local government units drain their public coffers?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this month gave restricted emergency-use approval (EUA) for vaccines from a number private pharmaceutical companies, among them China’s Sinovac and SinoPharm, British-Swedish AstraZeneca and American Pfizer pharmaceuticals.

Covishield is the Indian name for the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca and produced by Serum Institute. Covaxin is a government-backed experimental vaccine.

Vaccine czar, retired general Carlito Galvez Jr., has assured the public that glitch-free arrangements will be made to administer the vaccines, notwithstanding all the skepticism being spread by opposition parties and critics.

Unsaid, our government officials hint that as a democratic country, we are well known for arranging glitch-free elections through booth-level management and the same experience of election management and of universal health immunization logistics will be used to deliver the first doses of Covid-19 vaccines to majority of frontliners and health workers.

But prophets of doom are still questioning the pricing vaccines to be purchased by government.

Malacañang has time and again announced that government will expend efforts to bear the cost of vaccinating majority of frontliners in the first phase of the vaccination drive against the novel coronavirus.

So far, the Philippines has recorded 503,000 Covid-19 cases with 9,909 deaths. The total number of recovered cases stands at 466,000.

When more than 50 percent of Filipinos live below the poverty line, living on less than PhP100 a day, how many can afford to spend PhP1,000 or more for vaccination?

Experts are actually not sure the vaccination will be the panacea that eliminates a pandemic that has claimed millions of lives worldwide. Skepticism abounds. Critics say the development of vaccines against flu has seen only partial success, so why so much hype?

As far as common people’s perception about the pandemic is concerned, the fear is gone. In many places in the archipelago, particularly in urban centers like Manila and Cebu, life is slowly returning back to normal.

Many people giving up on the use of face shield and even face masks. Now, slowly, social distancing precautions are also vanishing. During the recent celebration of the Feast of the Black Nazarene in Manila, there was no fear of Covid-19 as devotees, including some local officials, flocked to Quiapo Church. The same enthusiasm is visible in other parts of the country where the Santo Niño is venerated.

So the question now is rolling out the world’s largest vaccination program a justifiable venture? Why would the government drain the public coffers? And, perhaps more importantly, why put the health of millions of Filipinos at risk as many are apprehensive about side effects? There are also concerns about allergic reactions, even anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction) deaths.  

Moreover, will not pharma manufacturers exploit the situation to make money? The public has good reason to question whether the vaccines will be effective against the virus’ mutated versions. The answers to most of these questions remain typically: only in the fullness of time. 

Political mudslinging has begun nevertheless. 

It is dangerous that Sinovac’s vaccine (Coronavac) got approval for emergency use without due procedure. Doing vaccination in a hurry will be very dangerous. The clinical trial for Coronavac is incomplete, but it got approval—it is dangerous.

Surveys have shown that 40 percent of Filipinos are indecisive in getting inoculated while 20 percent have outright refused to do so and the reason is because they have doubts about vaccine efficacy while some believe the Duterte administration “cannot be trusted.”

A member of the opposition spoke in a similar vein: “The government has politically misused the Covid-19 pandemic in its entirety. The controversy over the vaccine is its latest manifestation. Who is going to get himself vaccinated with a vaccine that has question marks over its reliability?”

President Rodrigo Duterte and his Cabinet, however, is unmoved. One of the former Davao City mayor’s close supporters in government has said: “To further their own failed politics and nefarious agendas, Congress and other opposition leaders are trying to cause panic in the minds of the people. I urge them to do politics on other issues. They should avoid playing with people’s precious lives and hard-earned livelihoods.”

Interestingly, the some lawmakers earlier slammed the Duterte government for being “tardy” in rolling out the vaccination against the unseen virus. 

Early this month, one solon noted that 2.3 million people in the world have already received vaccinations. “China, Indonesia, Singapore, United States, United Kingdom, Russia have started . . . When will the Philippines get its turn, Mr. Duterte?”

The opposition parties have their reasons to scream that the coronavirus crisis has actually come as a blessing in disguise for the government as the Duterte administration failed to generate more jobs in its first tenure between 2016 and 2019.

The economy has taken a beating for various reasons, including the ill-timed demonetization of a high-value peso midway the president’s term in office.

Now, Duterte has a good excuse called Covid-19, and the virus has not harmed his political future. The victims in all these games are always the poor. (AI/MTVN)

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