POSTSCRIPT / February 25, 2021 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Politics, age creeping into vaccine policies

IF the COVID-19 mass vaccination extravaganza of the Duterte administration were a movie, it would get a mixed review for its offers of consuelo to both sides of the aisle in the darkened cinema.

The Food and Drug Administration found on Monday clinical trial data to justify its granting the CoronaVac vaccine of China’s Sinovac Biotech an emergency use authorization (EUA) while exempting President Duterte from being injected with the controversial serum.

FDA Director-General Eric Domingo thus helped the boss show his friends in Beijing that Sinovac (with SinoPharm waiting in the wings) is favored in this archipelago whose maritime boundaries have been all but obliterated by repeated Chinese violations.

Sinovac should deliver quickly, before serums from the West arrive and give finicky Filipinos a variety of vaccines to choose from, cafeteria-style. Giving the people reasonable choices is just right since their lives are on the line and their taxes pay for the medicines.

It was smart of Domingo to point out that after integrating confusing trial data from Indonesia, Turkey, Brazil and elsewhere, the FDA saw that Sinovac can be safely used only on “clinically healthy” individuals aged between 18 and 59 years.

Malacañang apologists pounced on the FDA numbers to insist that Duterte, being already 75 years old (76 on March 28) and therefore outside the “safe” bracket, should not be injected with Sinovac.

But as President, critics insisted, he should set an example by at least receiving in public the first shot of Sinovac (while other brands are held at bay) in the coming rollout of the mass vaccination.

On the other hand, FDA’s saying that Sinovac’s lower efficacy rate of 50.4 percent applied on health care workers exposed to COVID-19 argues against this group’s using it should be welcomed by the frontliners, many of whom feel they deserve better vaccines.

A foreign ministry spokesperson in Beijing praised last Jan. 20 Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 66; Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan, 59; and Egypt President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, 66, among those who had themselves publicly injected with Chinese vaccines.

We would not be surprised if Duterte dramatically takes the first Sinovac jab in public to join China’s honor roll as part of a deal.

Duterte could use his COVID-19 handling to snuggle into the circle of China President Xi Jinping and Russia President Vladimir Putin who have been pushing hard their vaccines (Russia’s brand is Sputnik V) – but without themselves taking a jab.

Early in his delusion of playing a big role in world affairs, Duterte expressed a wish to form a Beijing-Manila-Moscow “axis” with the two autocratic leaders. The pandemic may just push him closer to that dream, if Jinping and Putin are in the mood to humor him while keeping their safe distance.

 Age doesn’t matter much in leadership

A RANDOM survey of world leaders shows that age need not be the key factor in an official’s deciding whether or not he/she should be vaccinated against COVID-19. Age could be just a cover for the fear of the jab’s exposing morbidities.

Here are some world leaders whose data, with focus on their age, we compiled for our readers:

* US President Joe Biden, aged 78 (dob* 11/20/1942), has completed his two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech. He said after the first: “I’m doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared when it’s available to take the vaccine. There’s nothing to worry about.” (*dob=date of birth)

* US Vice President Kamala Harris, 56 (dob10/20/1964), tweeted after her inoculation with Moderna in front of media: “Today I got the COVID-19 vaccine. I am incredibly grateful to our frontline health care workers, scientists, and researchers who made this moment possible.”

* Then US Vice President Mike Pence, 61 (dob 06/07/1959), received on Dec. 19 the first of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a televised White House event. “I didn’t feel a thing,” he said. After him, his wife Karen and Surgeon General Jerome Adams were also vaccinated.

* Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, 94 (dob 04/21/1926), and her husband Prince Philip, 99 (dob 06/10/1921), were vaccinated by a household doctor at Windsor Castle a week before Jan. 9 when the event was announced. The Duke is resting in the hospital now. (On Dec. 8, 2020, Margaret Keenan, 91, became the first in the UK to receive the jab, from May Parsons, a Filipina matron at University Hospital in Coventry.)

* Indonesian President Joko Widodo, 59 (dob 06/21/1961), received Jan. 13  his first shot of the Sinovac vaccine. Food and Drug Monitoring Agency chief Penny Lukito said the vaccine was 65.3 percent effective in Phase-3 clinical trials. Indonesia has ordered 330 million doses.

* Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 71 (dob 10/21/1949), and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, 62 (dob 08/05/1958), were injected Dec. 20 with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine live on TV. Netanyahu said: “I asked to be vaccinated first, together with Minister Edelstein, to serve as personal examples and encourage you to be vaccinated.”

* Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, 85 (dob 12/31/1935), received his first of two doses in early January. Soon after Saudi Arabia approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received the jab.

* Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, 64 (dob 05/30/1956), was vaccinated Dec. 27 at the Evaggelismos Hospital in Athens. That same day, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, 52 (dob 03/04/1968), was also inoculated at Attikon University Hospital, Athens. Mitsotakis said: “Today all Greeks are smiling behind our masks. The vaccine is the only way to be able to permanently leave behind this COVID adventure.”

* The United Arab Emirates Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 71 (dob 07/15/1949), was inoculated Nov. 3. He tweeted: “While receiving the vaccine today, we wish everyone safety and great health, and we are proud of our teams who have worked relentlessly to make the vaccine available in the UAE.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 25, 2021)

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