"Let us be conservative."
A visibly excited President Rodrigo Duterte addressed the Filipino people before noon of July 31. He announced that a vaccine against COVID-19 will be made available to the people in December and the country will be back to normal. He emphasized that this is not the so-called “new normal” as usually mentioned by other government officials but our pre-pandemic lives.
Duterte again repeatedly praised China as he read part of a letter saying that the Philippines, because it maintains a friendly relation with China, is a priority to receive the anti-COVID-19 vaccine once it is ready.
Secretary Sonny Dominguez echoed what Duterte said although with more care. He said that while some vaccines are in the final stages of development, these will first have to be approved by their countries’ health authorities. Here, the Department of Health (DOH) will decide on which vaccine the country will use. Our own Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will first have to examine the efficacy of vaccines that will be available in the market.
Still, Dominguez said that the vaccine will likely be available to the Filipino people late December of this year.
Duterte, hitting his critics for saying that he has no plan to fight COVID-19 said that he had no plan because he has not yet received the good news on the vaccine. He said that he has always emphasized the need for this. He then rolled out his scheme on how the vaccine will be administered.
The priorities are the poor, or those receiving assistance from government, as well as the police and the military. Next are those belonging to the middle class. Except for the rich who will need to pay for the vaccine, he said the vaccine will be free of charge. Duterte also said that members of the New People’s Army (NPA) may be given the vaccine on condition that they will not harm the military as they lead in administering the medicine. Drug lords and drug pushers will not be vaccinated. Duterte said he does not consider them as people, but dogs.
It is very noticeable that Duterte has excluded in his priorities the health care workers (HCWs) who are at the forefront of the war against COVID-19 despite the fact that many doctors, nurses and HCWs have contracted, and are contracting the deadly disease. We have lost numerous doctors and nurses in the line of duty, yet, they are not top of mind of the president in terms of protection.
Duterte also put the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) on top of the program to administer the vaccine to be assisted by volunteer HCWs, allegedly, to prevent corruption. One would think that since the problem is medical, it is but logical to put our medical experts in charge of the program. But again, the president has shown that he trusts the uniformed forces most.
In terms of financing, Dominguez said that the government has the needed money. For 20 million Filipinos to be vaccinated, we need around 40 million vaccine doses which will cost around P20 billion. He said that the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and Land Bank can finance this.
It would appear then that everything is good and that there is good reason to hope that Filipinos may have a merry Christmas.
Let us look at what is happening in terms of vaccine development. Worldwide, there are about 200 groups of medical researchers working on vaccine/s against COVID-19. Experts say that it usually takes years, even decades, for a vaccine to be perfected. The world is in a rush and is trying to develop the cure in a matter of months.
Presently, about 42 vaccines are being developed by several countries including China, the United States, and United Kingdom. Of the 42, only three (3) are in the advanced developmental stage that is phase three. Another three are between phases two and three; two are in phase two; six are between phases one and two; and the rest are in phase one or pre-clinical stage.
Those in phase three are the world’s best bet. This phase entails trials involving thousands of individuals to better measure how effective the vaccine is in protecting people. In phase three, it is also typical to compare the protection conferred to those who undergo immunization against those who receive placebo, or a substance that has no therapeutic effect.
For sure, there is hope. But even the experts are saying that a vaccine will likely be available middle of next year and they emphasize that there are no guarantees that it will work. People also need to know that not all vaccines are the same. Some are more effective than others. Thus, it will do well for our medical experts to take extreme care before recommending the vaccine/s of their choice.
We must also remember that because of the unfounded scandal against Dengvaxia, a good number of our people may still harbor distrust on vaccines in general. This must be considered in any plan on mass-administration of a vaccine against COVID-19. It may be harder than we think.
Thus, while I hope that Duterte is correct that a vaccine will be available by December, this is unlikely to happen. Also, because of the rush I developing this, the efficacy may not be the maximum. For now and until a vaccine that can be really trusted is developed, let us be conservative and not contract COVID-19. Keeping safe is still the best.
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