POSTSCRIPT / August 16, 2020 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Choose your vaccine: Chinese or Russian?

WE asked on Twitter the other day: “If you’ll need a COVID-19 vaccine before December and only the Chinese and the Russian vaccines are available by then, which vaccine will you choose?”

Some 92 percent of the early answers were variations of: None. Neither. No, thank you. Mauna na si Mayor. I’ll just wait for more reliable vaccines. I’ll stay home na lang and strengthen my immune system. (It seems “Vitamin Xi” and “Putin C” need some hard selling in this market.)

Our survey was not the scientific Gallup type. Its lone question was thrown only at the few thousands who follow us on Twitter, but the responses gave us an inkling of the prevalent sentiment about vaccines being offered to Filipinos to try. (You can still tweet replies to @FDPascual.)

In his last state of the nation address, President Duterte announced his readiness, and gratitude, for China’s offer of a vaccine before December. We wonder how Xi Jinping felt when, days later, his bff accepted Vladimir Putin’s vaccine and volunteered to be its first local guinea pig.

The President’s daring to take a raw anti-COVID test shot so moved us that we tweeted “Dapat siguro yung heroic “first shot” ni Pangulong Duterte gagawin sa public place gaya ng Luneta.” That elicited another round of excited retweets and reactions.

After the gallant offer of Duterte – he being the third node in his imagined Putin-Xi-Duterte axis – landed him in global headlines, his interpreter Harry Roque stepped in to clarify what the President really meant to say in his late Monday night TV show.

Roque said Duterte will take the Sputnik V shot only after the Russian vaccine is proved in wider testing to be safe and effective — and approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Why did Duterte not say that himself?

According to Roque, that dramatic Sputnik shot would be in May next year yet! We wonder what the lay of the COVID land would be by that time and, incidentally, who the US President would be by then (oops, sorry if that sounded like BiDen).

Who between Trump and Biden has the better handling of the COVID crisis? We have not noticed much of Biden’s coronavirus talk. As for Trump, many times he confused us with his zigzagging, sometimes bizarre, statements. Parang si Duterte!

Trump does not seem to be on the same wavelength as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’ top infectious disease official who drew our attention when he expressed concern recently about the safety and efficacy of vaccines made in China and Russia.

In Manila, as the administration grappled with the complicated and costly opening of schoolyear 2020-2021 in the middle of a pandemic, the Department of Education decided to buy more time by resetting the Aug. 24 opening to Oct. 5.

But will the system be ready by October? DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones said: “We trust that this is the final adjustment of the school opening. Even with the implementation of (modified enhanced community quarantine), we will use this time to adjust and ensure that all preparations have been made for the successful opening of classes.”

The postponement was announced after Vice President Leni Robredo, some senators, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and other stakeholders raised concerns about the preparedness of the public school system to handle new distance learning requirements.

Back to the vaccines, the AFP has reported that several Chinese companies are leading the pack in the global race, while Russia is trying to be the first in the world to produce a vaccine for the mass market, setting a target date of September.

The news agency said that Fauci, when asked during a recent congressional hearing whether the US could use Chinese or Russian vaccines if they arrived first, indicated that that was unlikely.

He said: “I do hope that the Chinese and the Russians are actually testing the vaccine before they are administering them to anyone. Claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing, I think, is problematic, at best.”

Chinese media announced in June that the CanSino Biologics has developed a vaccine that was used to immunize the Chinese military. Many scientists raised ethical concerns because the vaccine had not yet begun its Phase-3 stage of testing on humans.

Two other Chinese firms, Sinovac and Sinopharm, have launched final Phase-3 trials in Brazil and the United Arab Emirates. Filipinos who resort to jokes to relieve frustrations quipped in reaction to other nations’ being on Phase-2 or 3, “In da Pilipins we have Phase Shield”.

The AFP said the trials in Brazil and the UAE (as will be those in the Philippines) “will be watched particularly closely, given China’s history of vaccine and other health scandals”.

As for Russia, a global vaccine leader when it was still the Soviet Union, the AFP reported that it aims to bring two vaccines to market by September and October.

The first is being developed by the Moscow-based Gamaleya institute and the defense ministry, and the second by the Vektor state laboratory near the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. The Gamaleya vaccine, reportedly tested on Putin’s daughter, is the variety offered to Duterte.

The AFP said three Western vaccines are on final Phase-3 trials: One produced by US biotech firm Moderna and the National Institutes for Health; another by the University of Oxford and Britain’s AstraZeneca; and a third by Germany’s BioNTech with US pharmaceutical Pfizer.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 16, 2020)

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