When the news first started trickling out about something that went wrong with the country’s dengue vaccination program, I thought that something like this ought to be above petty politicking. After all, nothing less than children’s lives were at stake.
As the trickle became a flood of revelations, however, it dawned on me that—as usual—politics was the reason why something like this could go so badly wrong.
The cast of characters in this tragicomedy includes an avaricious and amoral President, his scheming co-conspirators and pliant subalterns, a heartless European multinational single-mindedly bent on profits, and hundreds of thousands of children needlessly put at risk from a life-threatening disease like dengue.
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In which plot lines and characters will we find the villainy lurking in the details?
• It was Aquino himself who brokered the deal—Twice, in 2015 and 2016, no less than the President himself met with senior executives of Sanofi Pasteur to discuss purchasing the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia for use in the Philippines. Photos of those meetings now litter social media.
• Aquino needed to raise funds for his Liberal Party in the 2016 elections – Apparently the cash stowed away by the LP from the MRT3 mis-maintenance contract and other schemes wasn’t enough. At a total of P3.6 billion, the vaccine was overpriced by an order of magnitude compared to its prices elsewhere. Now you know why.
• Sanofi Pasteur was an eager player – Pharmaceutical R&D eats up a lot of drug companies’ cashflows, making them desperate for the occasional big win. The company admitted in its latest annual report that the Philippine deal with Aquino accounted for the bulk of revenues that year in its vaccine product line.
• Experts and regulations were ignored—Former Health Undersecretary Susan Mercado says the vaccine was not properly approved through a standing committee of DoH. And the World Health Organization has issued a statement denying it ever endorsed the vaccine, contrary to the claims of PNoy’s then-Health secretary.
• Children’s lives were put, and still are, at needless risk—Since the vaccine endangers patients who were not previously infected by dengue, it should not have been administered at all to young children who, at their age, are less likely to be previouslyinfected. In fact, public health experts recommend it for use only in populations with a dengue rate of 50 percent or higher.
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Nonetheless, Aquino went ahead to administer the vaccine to over 700,000 Filipino children. In the parlance of the streets, he really proved to be a Sanofi b*tch.
I love that online photo of him grinning ear to ear, together with the rest of his yellow-shirted gang, while his health secretary injected Dengvaxia into an obviously scared child. For my money, he should be made to bend over and receive a triple dose of the vaccine, just to make sure for his own good that he never gets sick.
For now, the new DOH Secretary Pincoy Duque, an affable retread from the PGMA years, has asked Sanofi Pasteur to suspend the sale and distribution of the vaccine and withdraw it from the local market “pending compliance with the directives of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)”. It’s a relief that the adults are now taking over from the student council.
No children are reported to have died yet. But we’re advised to wait for six more months, and preferably until end of next year, before definitively concluding that our children are out of danger. We can only keep our fingers crossed meantime.
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Starting this Monday, the MMDA will be testing the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) concept on the monstrous vehicular traffic along Edsa.
The innermost of the road’s five lanes—the one beside the MRT3 right of way—will be reserved only to vehicles with at least two passengers, including the driver. Presumably this will be enforced only during rush hours, as is the practice in other countries. And presumably there will be lots of traffic enforcers around to make sure rules are followed.
With at least half of EDSA’s vehicles reportedly carrying only one unaccompanied driver, this new concept ought to work wonders, by reserving one lane for the rest of us who don’t mind company in the car.
MMDA may even want to increase the minimum number of HOV occupants to three, to encourage car-sharing. That’s the number used in the more crowded states of the US northeastern region, which like us have comparatively more people and narrower highways.
MMDA might also consider extending the test period to year-end, capturing a lot more data from the holiday shoppers and travelers who make December the busiest traffic month of the year.
Where we drivers can do our part is to follow the rules and not squeeze our single-occupant cars into the HOV lane. This will only force traffic enforcers to flag us down, thereby disrupting traffic flow and inconveniencing other drivers.
Now would be a good time to show the world that, at least on the road, we are not simply the “child people” that US President McKinley patronizingly made us out to be.
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I want to close this piece by bidding farewell to Ma’m Charito Planas, who passed away yesterday.
As one of the storied Planas sisters, Charito’s colorful life included escaping martial law aboard a rickety kumpit bound for Malaysia, spending years with the exiled opposition in the States, coming back home to local politics including a stint as QC vice mayor, and joining me as a spokesman for former President Arroyo.
Her sorority sisters in Sigma Delta Phi are planning their farewell rites for her tonight 7 PM at the Loyola Chapels in Marikina. She will be truly missed by many.
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