"From shipment to storage, to transport, to distribution and actual vaccination – these are not as easy as many presume."
Of late, we have been receiving news about developments in the efficacy of vaccines that have undergone Phase 3 of tests.
Last week, Pfizer announced their vaccine, touted as being 90-percent effective. Monday this week, Moderna, also an American firm, announced that their protein-based vaccine is 94.5-percent effective after undergoing trials among humans.
There are about a dozen more firms around the globe conducting tests on the efficacy of their anti-COVID vaccines, from the UK, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and of course China and Russia which have earlier announced their own discoveries.
The basic problem for us in the Philippines is that the rich nations have funded the research and development of the vaccines and are thus first on the list of countries which will have access to these vaccines when production roll-out is ready for distribution. We read before that our health and foreign affairs officials have had talks with Pfizer, but it seems nothing conclusive has come out of it. Besides, Pfizer’s vaccine requires -80 degree Celsius controlled temperatures, which pose a logistical nightmare for the Philippines, where vaccines have to cross islands from Metro Manila, and where cold chain facilities are few and do not have ultra-cold temperatures.
Moderna’s vaccine, which is protein-based, will not require sub-arctic temperatures, but as far as I know, we have not negotiated with Moderna. Taiwan is likewise developing, in cooperation with Japan, a protein-based vaccine which will require ordinary freezing temperatures for storage, and refrigeration for transport. These are now on Phase 1 and 2 trials.
Sanofi of France, the manufacturer of Dengvaxia as vaccine against dengue, is also developing a similar vaccine. I have no idea about the storage requirements of Chinese-made Sinopharma or Sino-vac, nor that of Russia’s Sputnik V from their Gamaleya Institute.
Which brings us to three basic considerations: One is funding. The whole world is scrambling to get their hands on the vaccines. As stated, the rich nations have advanced billions of dollars for the research and development; poorer nations will have to wait in line.
Two is a question of trust and confidence on the part of the population. Will they trust the vaccines whose provenance, either by drug company or country of origin, is doubtful or less credible, as far as their perception goes?
The third and very important consideration is logistics. From shipment to storage, to transport, to distribution and actual vaccination – these are not as easy as many presume. Given the track record of our health department in the spread of the infection and the lack of a coherent program until late in the day, we can understand why the President has chosen a retired military officer in the person of Sec. Carlito Galvez to be in charge.
War, and the conduct of it, is as much a function of logistics as it is of soldiering. We can safely presume that Sec. Galvez has a group of armed forces logistics experts already planning the intricacies of a roll-out of the vaccines, when these are available to us. It is a daunting task.
And speaking of logistics, how about those that concern the holding of the 2022 elections, which is just a year and a half away? Filing of Certificates of Candidacy will be done 11 months hence, and official campaigning will begin February of 2022. Registration has been slow on account of the pandemic.
What if the pandemic is still around in the Philippines by 2022, or when the vaccination program is still being implemented? Are we ready for that?
The most powerful country on earth has just concluded its presidential elections, with the incumbent claiming that he has been cheated, blaming mail-in ballots as having been tampered with. His attorney, the once-respected former mayor of New York City, is crying all over the place, peddling a conspiracy tale that is unbelievable from the point of view of intelligent people who understand the basics of election systems, but credible enough to the army of rednecks to whom Trump is an idol.
Rudy Giuliani in a Fox News interview by Lou Dobbs has painted a conspiracy among Dominion Systems of Toronto, Canada, Smartmatic which was founded by Venezuelans and now by a UK resident, and Indra Sistemas, S.A. of Spain.
Filipinos are familiar with Smartmatic, which we have been using since the 2010 elections, and has been a magnet for controversy here as well. True, Dominion of Canada provides the software for Smartmatic PCOS, but Indra of Spain is a competitor, and “lost” to Smartmatic in the Comelec’s bidding years ago. How they can collude altogether in a conspiracy to defeat Trump is beyond intelligent comprehension.
But never mind that; it is America’s problem for now, not ours. Truth is, almost all the states that voted for Trump used an election systems purveyor based in Nebraska. The Democrats can also draw their own conspiracy theory.
But picture a situation when come May of 2022, people are still afraid to convene in crowded schoolhouses to cast their votes. That would be disastrous.
Is Comelec prepared for such a scenario?
In pre-Covid 2019, Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon was our visitor here in Taiwan, to promote overseas absentee voting. Over dinner, we had occasion to discuss the possibility of internet voting for our OFW community, and given the advanced technology here, we agreed with her about the possibilities of such.
If we only had our computer-readable national ID available to all voters by then, voting by internet, not only for OFWs but for all, is a secure possibility. But the national ID will not be available extensively by 2022, the way we are implementing the law.
And if we can amend our laws such that we reduce the number of elective positions, adopt bloc voting or team voting as in the US, why, we may even be able to use ATM machines on election day and make voting a very convenient effort. I have been advocating that in this space quite often.
But I dream too much.
Today is the birth anniversary of a great Filipino, who chose country before self when he surrendered his personal ambition and party interest to unite the opposition in the historic "snap" elections of 1986 --- Salvador "Doy" Laurel.
Had he not succumbed to cancer in January of 2004, he would be 92 years of age by now, and would have witnessed profound changes in the history of his beloved land, and likely to be active in promoting unity amongst a divided people, true to the motto he inherited from his father, Jose P. Laurel --- "Ang bayan, higit sa lahat".