POSTSCRIPT / February 23, 2021 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Duterte, top officials can now try Sinovac

THE FOOD and Drug Administration granted yesterday, just before the targeted start of the mass vaccination rollout, an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the coronavirus vaccine developed by the Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac.

The FDA flashed the green light after President Duterte expressed what his spokesman Harry Roque described as impatience over the delay in the issuance of the EUA clearing the way for the vaccine’s use on “clinically healthy” individuals aged between 18 and 59 years.

Roque said: “The President has spoken that he is also growing impatient over the arrival of the vaccines. Now that the President has spoken, we hope this will be fast-tracked already.”

But FDA Director-General Eric Domingo said in a briefing yesterday that health workers will not be inoculated with the Chinese vaccine, 600,000 doses of which are expected to be donated by Sinovac to the government.

Domingo said the EUA was granted “after a thorough and rigorous review of the currently available published and unpublished data by our regulatory and medical experts.” He was saying a few days ago that the paperwork had not been submitted.

While the efficacy of Sinovac’s vaccine sold as CoronaVac ranged from 65.3 to 91.2 percent, he said its efficacy among health care workers who are exposed to COVID-19 patients was only 50.4 percent.

A big number of public health workers reportedly have expressed reluctance to be injected with vaccines made in China. Their exemption from the Sinovac serum will evade that sensitive issue.

With health workers delisted, we suggest that officials from President Duterte down to Cabinet officials, ranking military and police officers, to senators, congressmen, and their families be injected in public with CoronaVac to demonstrate faith in it. Anyway, they are not frontliners.

CoronaVac is the third vaccine to be given an EUA, the earlier brands being AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech, some 117,000 doses of which are expected to be delivered this month for the rollout.

The start of the mass vaccination was delayed by the government’s failure to address early the many details of the procurement that was initiated rather late. Still to be refined is the storage, distribution and administration of the vaccines.

One of the last loose ends attended to was the need for a government guarantee freeing the drug manufacturers of any liability if there are negative reactions to their vaccines. That problem was encountered during the anti-dengue vaccination in 2017-2018.

The government aims to secure some 150 million doses from all sources to be able to inoculate 70 to 80 percent of the adult population to achieve herd immunity and stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nation caught between restrictive pandemic protocols and the widespread loss of jobs and means of eking out a living has been waiting for the vaccination rollout, but the promised start of the mass inoculation had been set and reset till we lost track.

The situation had seen seniors in the communication business telling young spirited recruits raring to beat the competition in reporting fast-moving events that a thing is not an event until it has happened.

This advice, which could dampen enterprise if misunderstood, simply means what it says — that a schedule refers to an activity that has yet to happen; a plan is just an intended action; and a promise, especially one made by a politician, is nothing but a promise.

When a responsible official tells the media that he would do something important, the future could get mixed up with the present. An anticipated action could loom in the public mind as a sure upcoming event if enough people expect or want it to happen.

When a general sporting the fancy title of “vaccine czar” said the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccines would arrive on a certain date, some of us rushed to broadcast that the vaccines that would save the town from the scourge were on their way! They were not.

Glossed over in the reportage are the minutiae of our competing with the rest of the world for the limited supply of vaccines some of which have not even passed the required clinical tests to check their efficacy and safety.

There is also the problem of vaccines being used to advance the economic and geopolitical agendas of some of the powerful nations that make them.

That explains why when we watch President Duterte on TV report what he has done during the week, we note his demeanor to get a sense of how solid are his assertions and catch any subliminal messages running in the background.

As we write this, we have heard only of the granting of the EUA to Sinovac. We are awaiting word as to the physical arrival of the vaccines. We won’t be surprised if the vaccines of Sinovac and Sinopharm, the state-owned Chinese drug firm, have been around all along.

With the EUA given to CoronaVac, FDA can proceed to grant a similar authorization to Sinopharm whose vaccine was used by the Presidential Security Group late last year, albeit illegally, to inoculate the soldiers securing Duterte.

The vaccines from various suppliers will arrive in various quantities under varying conditions, requiring varied handling methods as they head for various storage facilities before being farmed out to various points of vaccination.

The dizzying logistical variations will again test the people planning and managing the vaccination of 70-80 million adults until the end of this year to achieve herd immunity from the virus.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 23, 2021)

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