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[Newspoint] Vaccine politics

It used to be that people took their medicines as told, without question, so you’d think they’d be scrambling for the vaccines just found to beat a pandemic that has held the world in its deadly grip for longer than a year now.

Well, not really. There is some hesitancy, but it should be overcome once the vaccines’ safety and efficacy have been proved in the public dispensing.

A rather bizarre reaction, though, has been provoked in a shocking if isolated case. Among Americans, the pandemic itself, along with the coldly sensible fact that more than 2.5 million lives have been lost to it, is denied; it is dismissed as a hoax propagated for partisan political ends. And to think that this blindness is afflicting a nation that leads the world in wealth and power and science. As it happens, it also leads in coronavirus deaths.

It is definitely not the case with us. We may be Third World, but we are quite clear-eyed when it comes to pandemics and vaccines. Still, that does not make us any better off; it does not stop those things being similarly manipulated.   

Neither is clear-sightedness a sufficiently self-redemptive virtue. No, not when you’re up against a regime like President Duterte’s. It will take greater virtues than clear-sightedness and sensibleness and a more vigorous activism to prevail over such a regime as has dragged us on the road to authoritarianism so far along.

We’re in fact up against a regime that has already become militarized and secured the vote it needs from lawmakers and magistrates to give Duterte’s word the force of law. Not to mention, Duterte — he himself doesn’t mind telling you — enjoys the protection of a world power that sees a vassal in him. Those strengths were deployed in combination during the pandemic — for Congress and the courts, plain inaction, sitting back and doing nothing, was a perfect enough role.

Former generals, who had had no training in either public health or public administration, led the campaign against the pandemic and ended up mismanaging it – in fact, mismanaging it so magnificently the performance earned first honors in Asia. The ineptitude has carried on, and now, with vaccines rolling out, it is even compounded by shady interests: the regime passed up chances at making deals for the approved brands, preferring to wait for China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac to get their approval.

Duterte tried to get out of it by accusing richer countries of “monopolizing the supply.” He was proved wrong as he spoke. Vaccination had begun among not a few Philippine fellows in the have-nots club: Azerbaijan, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Romania, Sri Lanka, and Turkey.

Still, Duterte might, if only for the sake of his wounded ego, claim a rationalized victory in the vaccination race, but no way could that run in November have counted — he cheated. He had some of his bodyguards injected with smuggled, untested Sinopharm.

With Sinovac here now, approved for emergency use by our own FDA, Duterte appears more barefaced in promoting it and its country of origin — for one thing, he mounted a grand reception ceremony for it.

Later that week, a first shipment of nearly 500,000 doses of the European-sourced AstraZeneca vaccine arrived to a more tepid welcome. Duterte, of course, can claim no credit for it; it is part of the five to nine million doses earmarked for us from a World Health Organization facility devised to give poor nations a fair chance at vaccine access. Further deliveries are conditioned upon an equitable in-country distribution of the previous ones.

With AstraZeneca, Duterte personally gets an alternative to Sinovac, which, like Sinopharm, he wouldn’t take for himself. Suddenly law-abiding, Duterte, 77, says that neither Chinese vaccine is suggested by our FDA for the elderly; their natural vulnerabilities render it less safe and efficacious.

A similar warning is raised for pandemic frontliners — doctors, nurses, other hospital workers. The offsetting factor given in their case is the high-risk environment in which they work. Even so, before the arrival of AstraZeneca, the government had been pushing Sinovac, on the misapplied desperate logic that no other vaccine was momentarily available — there being no way out, jump!

The vaccine debate, meanwhile, has been taken further and further out of context. Why at all push a vaccine not only less efficacious than the others but also more expensive than most others? Why a vaccine produced by manufacturers known to resort to bribery in order to gain the approval of regulatory agencies, and to product mislabeling and other forms of cheating in order to fool buyers?

Duterte’s depiction of the 600,000 doses from China as a life-saving gesture of philanthropy is nauseatingly deceitful. Not only are the vaccines good for a mere 0.3% of our population, they don’t come free. Effectively, they have been, perforce, prepaid from any of the following advance accounts: one, uncollected taxes on Chinese gaming operations sited here; two, immigration and other fees and fines that hordes and hordes of Chinese mainlanders have managed to avoid paying by bribing their way into our shores; and three, all the profits China has reaped out of the deal in which Duterte surrendered to it full sovereign run of the West Philippine Sea. The surrender was, of course, treasonable, but, for the sake of argument, those waters alone, if marketable, could pay for all the vaccines the whole world, not just us, needs.

Indeed, the issues surrounding Sinovac go back to the West Philippine Sea — even further. –