Why penalize us for choosing better vaccine?
Just as I was about to write a column on amending the agri-agra law, or on election issues, or on PLDT inefficiency, the President, who in my book runs neck-and-neck with Ferdinand Marcos as the Philippines’ worst president (Mr. Duterte still has 14 months to go, but you will be the first to know, Reader), comes up with another questionable decision, this time reportedly based on seeing pictures of longer queues for Pfizer vaccines, where physical distancing regulations were not followed. Good grief. What have the Filipinos done to deserve such a leader?
His decision: Filipinos are not to be told what vaccine they are to be given, except at the last moment, so they can give their “informed consent.”
In the first place, physical distancing regulations are enforced by the vaccination centers and have nothing to do with what vaccine is being given. I have written about my barangay’s efficiency in administering the vaccine, and even at the most crowded, physical distancing was enforced.
Secondly, if Filipinos choose to rush for a Pfizer vaccine, as purportedly shown by the queues, in contrast with their lack of enthusiasm for the Sinovac vaccine, they should be congratulated for behaving rationally. Between a vaccine whose efficacy is 95 percent (Pfizer) and one whose efficacy is 50.4 percent (Sinovac), or between a vaccine whose field test results are completely transparent and peer-reviewed, and one whose test results are murky, guess what a non-idiot would choose? Filipinos are not idiots.
Thirdly, Mr. Duterte does not have the moral high ground in this issue. He himself did not choose Sinovac, but had himself vaccinated with another Chinese vaccine, Sinopharm, even if choosing the latter meant disobeying the laws (a vaccine has to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and Sinopharm has not been approved). In fact, his Presidential Security Group, and reportedly some politicians and Cabinet members (who are not admitting anything), were vaccinated with Sinopharm last year, not Sinovac.
And they were behaving rationally, too. Why? Because Sinopharm may be the much better vaccine than Sinovac, at least as revealed by whatever research there was at the time their choices were made. If you don’t believe in science and research, Reader, take your cue from the Chinese ambassador, who brought in the Sinopharm jabs for Mr. Duterte (and the PSG), even if Sinovac was already available to the President. Why do I know this? Process of elimination—if not by any authorized firm, if not through Customs, the only possible way for Sinopharm to enter the Philippines was by diplomatic pouch.
Additionally, Sinopharm already received the World Health Organization’s (WHO) approval for emergency use last May 7. Sinovac, which submitted its application at about the same time as Sinopharm, still hasn’t been approved as of today. I don’t know whether the WHO approval of Sinopharm was politically influenced—remember the WHO’s treatment of China with kid gloves about COVID-19—but that political influence obviously wasn’t enough for the WHO to give Sinovac its imprimatur. Or the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on immunization may be willing to give in only once. They too may not be amenable to the “it’s better than nothing” argument used for Sinovac.
So if Mr. Duterte was acting rationally in choosing Sinopharm over Sinovac, why should he penalize the Filipino people for choosing an even better vaccine over Sinovac? Which, by the way, renders inutile that “informed consent” document they must sign before taking their jabs. He is dissing us.
You may have noted, Reader, that in page 2 of yesterday’s Inquirer, which headlined the President’s decision, there is another news article: Senators Panfilo Lacson, Risa Hontiveros, Nancy Binay, Joel Villanueva, and Imee Marcos; Marinduque Gov. Presbitero Velasco Jr., president of the League of Provinces of the Philippines (father of Speaker Lord Alan Velasco); Mayor Toby Tiangco of Navotas; and Mayor Marcy Teodoro of Marikina—all were against withholding the vaccine information from the public. Great, wouldn’t you say?
But that was when they were responding to a Department of the Interior and Local Government directive. Will they, or will they not, change their stand, now that Mr. Duterte has spoken? Bet, anyone?
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