By Jun Ledesma

Vaccines reveal who your friends are

THE vaccination program in the Philippines is fraught with politics, cynicism brought about by ignorance, prejudice, and the ingrained predilection for American-made products. All these beyond the primordial and universal concern to make every individual adequately protected from Covid-19 virus which had infected more than 115-million people 2.54-million of which perished. 

In the Philippines, more than 578-thousands cases had been recorded and still counting while 12,322 died. As I write this piece, Metro Manila cases had surged back to not less than 2-thousand cases daily.  But it is very important to take note that of these cases 534-thousands plus had recovered in the entire country. 

Davao Region on the other hand showed a dramatic decrease in cases. From nearly 150 cases on a daily average in January and towards late February,  the region is down to only less than 50.  Active cases are also down to 1,337 which means that the recovery rate has also significantly increased. 

It is important to take hold of these statistics for it is important in decision-making.  In government hospitals in Metro Manila, the number of health front-liners who are on top of the priority list of those who will receive vaccination against the coronavirus was high. They expected to have the Pfizer vaccine made in the USA which was set to arrive on March 1.  Scheduled to arrive earlier was 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines which are donations from China. 

For one reason or another Pfizer, delivery did not materialize. The supply actually is to come from the Covax facility (co-led by World Health Organization and GAVI). Covax targets 2-billion doses to be equitably allocated to countries that have difficulties accessing supplies).  No definite date was given as to when the 530,000 doses will arrive. 

The initial day of vaccination drive in the country last March 1 was however met with a pocket demonstration of some health workers who refused to be inoculated with Sinovac which they said is made in China.  They asserted that their sole option is the US-made Pfizer. This skepticism moreover was dismissed by the head of the Philippine General Hospital, Dr. Gerardo ”Gap” Legaspi, who asserted that the best vaccine is what is available. Dr. Legaspi, whose name will be written in the country’s annals as the first to get the jab, elucidated that the Sinovac vaccine will give him 100% protection against severe and critical  Covid-19 infection.  He said that he had closely looked into the efficacy of Coronavax (the brand name of the Sinovax vaccine) gleaned from the results of trials and later for emergency use in Indonesia, Brazil and Turkey and what to him is important is that he will not die of a severe and critical case of Covid. This means that moderate and mild infections can be dealt with by the body’s improved immune system. 

Dr. Edcel Salvana, the Director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the National Institutes of Health at the University of the Philippines Manila, and Clinical Associate Professor and Research Coordinator at the Section of Infectious Diseases of the Department of Medicine at the Philippine General Hospital shares the same optimism as  Dr. Legaspi. An Adjunct Professor for Global Health at the University of Pittsburgh Dr. Salvana put it in another way. He said that each day after attending to several Covid patients at PGH he comes home worried he might have been infected despite all the protections he dons. He revealed that he had two vulnerable senior citizens at home and members of his family. He said getting the Sinovac jab gives him the comfort that he will not be carrying home the virus that causes severe and critical affliction to him and his household.

Dr. Eric Domingo, Head of Food and Drug Administration, was demonstrative in his assurance that Coronavax has high efficacy rates for those in the 18-59 age bracket.  He was all smiles as the rollout of the vaccines and immunization drive commenced. 

The rollout of the vaccines had started and the percentage of acceptance is running high. Private hospitals which are accepting Covid-19 patients, among these St. Lukes Hospital and Cardinal Santos Hospitals have asked the government for thousands of allocations for their Healthcare front-liners. They will get their share. 

Looking at the statistics  Sinovac’s Coronavax would indeed be very effective given the number of transmissions the rate of recovery is quite high which means these are moderate cases of infection. This China-made vaccine, therefore, is as good as any in addressing that. It will be a different story if you get infected while waiting for the US  or UK-made vaccine.   Turkey had in fact just announced that the efficacy of Coronavax is 100%! 

One week from the start of the immunization drive we witnessed our health authorities demonstrating their trust and confidence in Sinovac’s Coronavax. This is not to mean that we rely on it alone. The Philippines are among the many countries that have to queue for vaccines no matter what the brand for as long as it is cleared with FDA.  The demand is high while the supply is short.  Last Wednesday,  US Pres. Joe Biden announced that it will no longer share any of its vaccines even to Canada and Mexico. That’s America for you. If it cannot love its neighbor, do not expect any single dose until every single American is inoculated. 

The prejudice against China is misplaced as it stemmed from prejudice and ignorance.  China has beaten the West not only in the area of the economy but in many facets of technology. Surely they cannot be far behind in various fields of science and technology. America may be the first to land on Mars and Mars but how relevant is it to mankind? China is far from what the West pictured it to be - poor,  backward, undeveloped, farmers living in square communes, people in dirty Mao jackets riding in bicycles in rugged streets. China today has the most number of billionaires in the world, their farmers living in high-rise condominiums,  riding in latest models of flashy cars commuting great distances in high-speed trains over land and seas spanned by excellent roads and bridges. 

China is being demonized and demeaned by the West.  We are bombarded with all sorts of black propaganda scaring the wits of the gullible that China will wage war against the Philippines. The Chinese people are no fools to distract and impede the development and progress that they enjoy today.  They do not send fleet of warships. In the Philippines, they provide cheap loans and grants to help us build much-needed infrastructures not to mention the number of projects that cost billions of pesos. which they build for free.

Last week our vaccination program started fueled by 600,000 vials gifted to us by China. Another 400,000 Coronavacs are scheduled to arrive soon. 

That is what friends are for.


About the Columnist

Image of Jun Ledesma

Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.