"What’s wrong with being picky?"
Choosiness comes to mind with the recent statement of the presidential spokesperson regarding the vaccines against the coronavirus.
“Meron po tayong karapatan para sa mabuting kalusugan pero hindi naman po pepwede na pihikan dahil napakaraming Pilipino na dapat turukan (We have a right to good health but we cannot be too picky because there are so many Filipinos who must be vaccinated),” said Secretary Harry Roque.
His statement came amid concerns about the relatively higher price and relatively lower efficacy rate of the vaccine from Sinovac, which appears to be the government’s brand of choice.
Sinovac is only one of several companies that have developed vaccines, but two doses of it would cost P3,629.50, according to the Office of Senator Sonny Angara, chairman of the Senate finance committee. The efficacy rates for Sinovac also vary: Tests in Turkey have yielded a 91-percent rate; tests in Brazil, meanwhile, a lower 78 percent. Some have pinned the efficacy rate to a low 50 percent.
But most brands go for lower prices per two doses, and all of them have efficacy rates higher than Sinovac’s.
For example, two doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine would cost P610 and it is 70-percent effective. Two doses of Novovax would cost P366, even as there is no information yet on its efficacy. Two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine would cost P2,379. It has an efficacy rate of 95 percent but it has to be stored at a temperature of negative 70 degrees Celsius.
Two doses of Moderna’s would cost anywhere from P3,904 to P4,504. It has an efficacy rate of 95 percent and needs to be stored at negative 20 degrees Celsius. Gamaleya’s vaccines called Sputnik V would cost P1,220 for two doses and needs only to be stored at a regular refrigerator temperature. Efficacy rate is 92 percent.
Finally, we could obtain vaccines from the COVAX Facility—a global effort to ensure rapid, fair and equitable access to whatever is left of the world supply by the richer economies—at a rate of P854.
These estimates from the office of Senator Angara are adjusted for VAT and 10-percent inflation rate.
Roque’s initial statement about Filipinos being picky elicited angry reactions from many sectors, such that other officials eventually said they were procuring vaccines from various providers. Well and good, if this is the case, and if the primary consideration is the best possible deal for the government at the soonest possible time. We really need to start inoculating Filipinos now, even as we still have to embark on the difficult task of convincing the people that vaccination is good for them.
Mr. Roque’s words, however, continue to rankle. What is wrong with being choosy? We are entitled to demand that our government choose the best vaccines because it’s our money, anyway, that it is spending. We would want our taxes to be spent prudently; saying otherwise would only fan speculation that somebody somewhere stands to make hefty profits. More importantly, we want vaccines that actually work, and would not cause harm.
Filipinos have a tendency to be too accepting of what is being given them. Let us then take this matter of choosiness to a broader context. We should not be apologetic for being choosy. We should be discriminating—whether in the procurement of vaccines that would protect us against a deadly virus, or in selecting local and national officials to lead us.
Later this year, national candidates will file their certificates of candidacy for the 2022 elections. The circus is about to begin, if it has not already done so. It is our hope that after everything we’ve seen during this pandemic, we would be more picky about the men and women we would elect to serve us. There is no such thing as being too picky—only being lazy and indifferent.