POSTSCRIPT / June 24, 2021 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Allow time lag after a Duterte outburst

WE used to say that all statements of President Duterte must be in writing and under oath to assure the public that he meant every word said. Now we think listeners should also allow a time lag before speculating on what he really meant.

In his “Talk to the People” telecast Monday night, he said that people who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 would be arrested. Those familiar with his occasional reckless remarks shrugged it off, except that the media had reported it for the record.

The transcript had him saying in colorful Taglish: “They are hard-headed. Don’t get me wrong. There is a crisis being faced in this country. There is a national emergency. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I will have you arrested.

“And I will inject the vaccine in your butt (¡Curse!). You are pests! We are already suffering and you’re adding to the burden.

“So all you Filipinos listening, watch out! Don’t force my hand into it… I have a strong arm for that. Nobody likes it. But if you won’t get vaccinated, leave the Philippines. Go to India or somewhere — to America.  But as long as you are here and you are a human being that can carry the virus, get yourself vaccinated!”

* * *

SURE enough, in the ensuing time lag that was filled with the sniping of skeptics and critics, his threat to have non-vaxxers arrested was given various interpretations and clarifications by the Palace fire-fighting brigade.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that jurisprudence allows the government to compel mandatory vaccination but that that would need a law or ordinance to provide for the punishment of people who are unwilling to get inoculated.

He said the state has an inherent police power to implement policies, which he explained could “violate rights in exchange for the larger interest… of public health and public safety.” The threat of arrests was made, he added, to emphasize what the state can do.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that the country has no law to compel anyone to get vaccinated, adding that the President “merely used strong words” to stress the importance of getting vaccinated so the country could achieve herd immunity.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the President was just protecting the people: “In terms of a father of the family, in effect, father of the nation, we need to protect the most vulnerable, and that’s basically senior citizens and those with comorbidities… So (he said that) as in a sense of exasperation.”

On other occasions when Duterte blurted out off-tangent remarks, his apologists sometimes recast what he had said or explained that he was just joking. This time, however, none of them said he was merely kidding.

* * *

DUTERTE could not have been trying to be funny or flippant, what with the Delta variant, said to be the most virulent mutation of the coronavirus so far, having entered the Philippines, and with the COVID-19 pandemic having infected more than 1,368,000 Filipinos and killing at least 23,820 of them.

Perhaps a longer time lag should be allowed Duterte and his boys while they ponder what to do with another sticky item – the plastic face shield that makes the Philippines look like a country of unemployed Tesda welders walking around looking for jobs.

In most parts of the civilized world, those shields worn over one’s eyeglasses and face mask have long been discarded for being cumbersome and unnecessary. But Duterte and his coterie cannot agree on whether to require them or not, indoors or outdoors.

It seems that a lucky somebody who had cornered the brisk business still has warehouses filled with them – and might lose his balance if the face shields are declared as unnecessary clutter.

As for mass vaccination, one problem encountered by Duterte’s task force managing the quasi-military operation is the widespread hesitation, if not resistance, to being inoculated.

In November last year, a survey showed that only 66 percent of Filipino adults were willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. In a recent follow-up nationwide poll, those willing to take the shots dropped to 32 percent.

Interviewers conducting the survey said most respondents expressed concern about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. How did prospective vaccinees know that when they have not had them?

* * *

IS IT possible that the resistance or hesitation is not against COVID-19 vaccines in general, but only against Chinese brands? It looks like a classic marketing problem.

Before lining up at a vaccination center, many people ask around which brand is being injected. A number of them hold back if it is China’s CoronaVac or Sinopharm. But they rush to grab a slot when word gets around that it is the US-made Pfizer.

Doctors’ advice that the best vaccine is what is available may have convinced many people to accept whatever is there – with their fear of the invisible killer virus having helped wear down their resistance.

A few individuals who have the means had flown out to be vaccinated abroad or sought out private physicians in town who have the desired brands boasting of superior efficacy.

For comparison, these are the published efficacy rates of some of the vaccines offered in public health centers: Pfizer/BioNTech, efficacy 95 percent; Moderna, 95 percent; and AstraZeneca/Oxford, 70 percent.

CoronaVac produced by Sinovac Biotech of China reportedly has shown varied efficacy readings of between 50.65 percent and 83.5 percent based on trials in Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 24, 2021)

* * *

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