The Monday IATF conference

"Is the government in such a hurry?"



In the Monday Inter Agency Task Force for Infectious Diseases meeting, two interesting topics were discussed by the President in his usual frankness and candor.

One is about the coronavirus vaccine, which the country is now banking on to deliver us to the Promised Land. He said that we are now in all probability going to buy the vaccine from China and Russia. This is because the two countries have not demanded any advance deposits. He then said that we would buy only if the vaccines are effective and are safe. Then he proceeded to lambast western pharmaceutical firms by saying that their only priority is profit, because they are demanding advance deposits. This, according to him, is unconscionable and he will not stand for it.

Then he went on to warn pharmaceutical agents who may be in the country to better leave. If he met them at a hotel lobby, he might just shame them. I do not know why he had to say those things on live TV or why the TV station did not cut that portion. It is not something we would like our President to do.

From various reports however, it is not a question of pharmaceutical companies being greedy by demanding advance payments. It is the eagerness of some countries, like the United States, to be the first. Germany, for instance, just gave 750 million euro to ensure that a vaccine would come on time. This is because according to some experts, pharmaceutical companies will take two to four years to manufacture all the needed vaccines for all countries, given that each person needs two shots to acquire immunity.

There is, therefore, in some way a mad scramble to ensure that a country will be one of the first to get the vaccine. This obviously puts poorer countries at a disadvantage.

This is the reason why the World Health Organization is trying to find an equitable way to distribute the vaccines that will be fair to all countries, rich or poor. We simply have to scramble harder not to be the last to get it.

The Chinese and Russian vaccines will naturally help but we must also aggressively work to buy other vaccines from other sources, so long as these are effective and are safe. And in fairness to the pharmaceutical manufacturers, one company came out with a statement that it will not prioritize profit but will be selling the vaccines at a minimal cost.

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The second topic discussed by the President was his approval of the filing of criminal charges against several top former and current officials of PhilHealth led by its former President Ricardo Morales and the current PhilHealth Office-in-Charge Calixto Gabuya Jr. This was upon the recommendations of the Department of Justice Task Force created to investigate the reported anomalies.

Senate President Vicente Sotto expressed his surprise and dismay why DOH Secretary Francisco Duque was not included among those who will be charged. This is hardly surprising. The President has already cleared Duque on multiple occasions. Besides, is there any official in the land brave enough to cross President Duterte?

My suggestion to those asking for the head of the good DOH Secretary is to let it be—at least for the time being. Remember the saying that all good things must come to an end.

The surprise actually is the fact that charges are being filed at all against former and current PhilHealth officials. Whether this will be pursued vigorously to its conclusion is another matter altogether. These kinds of cases take many years before a verdict is rendered. It will therefore be a long wait.

During the same meeting, Secretary Duque reported on the current status of the pandemic. What struck me about his report is that the current positivity rate is about 10.6 per cent which is still high. We have to work on getting that down to less than 5 per cent if we want to bring down the infection rate.

We cannot do this, however, if we start relaxing basic medical guidelines like social distancing. Why the DOTr was allowed to decrease the distance between jeepney passengers and do away with the plastic separators is hard to fathom. The plastics should be kept because this is not only about drivers but passengers as well. They also need protection no matter how minimal.

Is the government now so in a hurry to get the economy into full gear that it is making very risky moves? We have to remember that the daily infection rate is still not going down and the mortality rate and critical cases are going up. This should be a sobering thought to all of us.

Topics: Florencio Fianza , Inter Agency Task Force for Infectious Diseases , IATF conference , coronavirus vaccine , PhilHealth , Senate President Vicente Sotto , DOH Secretary Francisco Duque
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