COVID-19 Vaccine woes
By YASHIKA TORIB
Manila Bureau Correspondent
The new variant of the Coronavirus disease (B117), otherwise known as the UK variant, has been confirmed to be present in the Philippines weeks before the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines arrives.
Studies revealed that this variant is more infectious than the current COVID-19 strain, with as high as 70 percent transmission rate. What’s odd about this new variant is that it emerged shortly after the United Kingdom rolled out mass vaccination drives for its citizens, making the intended immunity futile as the strain simply mutated into a variant that quickly replaces other versions of the virus.
What use could the current vaccines now be?
This reminds me of what my friend, a medical doctor by profession, once said – “we’d rather not be inoculated even if the vaccines are already available.” She said it with much conviction and finality that I ended up stunned, I could only ask “why?”. Accordingly, it takes years, mostly decades, to develop, test, and approve a truly efficient and effective vaccine. She maintained that at the least, a vaccine could be developed in two years, otherwise, those who will be subjected to inoculation will simply become “guinea pigs” for testing. What’s more, another kind of vaccine shall be made for another variant or strain of a particular virus.
And now that the UK variant has emerged in the Philippines, how effective could the existing vaccines be? Vaccines that are yet to arrive next month. Vaccines that are chosen by the government mainly for their cost rather than effectivity (SINOVAC, which was procured by the national government are estimated to only be 50.4% effective. Other vaccines such as Moderna and Pfizer are estimated to be 95%, and AstraZeneca to be 70%). Vaccines are imposed on Filipinos since, accordingly, we “cannot control what vaccines will arrive” and because “it will be given for free”.
Let me emphasize that a part of the funds used to procure these vaccines are from the taxes paid by citizens; the bulk of the budget will be, according to the Palace, borrowed – another loan that will eventually be shouldered by taxpayers. So how come that the 25 million doses of SINOVAC vaccines to arrive this February are “free”? Not unless it is given or donated by the Chinese government, which then leaves us to wonder where the P73.2 billion budget, or part of it, will go?
Another question that arises is the imminent redundancy of expenditure for vaccines. If the national government intends to inoculate 70 percent of the country’s 109 million population and sets a budget for it, then why do some of the local government units already procured vaccines for their constituents and paid from their city coffers? (We commend city mayors who have opted for vaccines with higher effectivity rates). Will the LGUs end up paying for vaccines that were already bought and allocated by the national government?
And should there be a side-effect to the vaccine – the most common of which are days of body pain, swelling, fevers, and chills – are we not exposing the most vulnerable (elderlies and indigents) and the most essential frontline (uniformed servicemen and medical workers) who are on the top of the priority list? What would become of a country with weakened health and security forces?