| Photo by Dorieo via Wikimedia Commons
The news about President Bongbong Marcos testing positive for COVID-19 after an antigen test serves as a grim reminder that the virus is still very much around us, and the battle against this virus continues.
Although the President has only manifested a slight fever, there is no denying that we still need to be very vigilant, especially in the wake of reports about a new subvariant that is highly transmissible and can possibly evade our acquired immunity.
In fact, a report by The Washington Post with the headline “The worst virus variant has just arrived” detailed how the latest Omicron subvariant identified as BA.5 and a closely related variant called BA.4 swept across the United States late last year, accounting for about 70 percent of all infections, according to estimates by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Washington Post quoted Scripps Research professor of molecular medicine, Dr. Eric Topol, who said that the BA.5 is “the worst version of the virus that we’ve seen” as it has extensive immune escape capability (meaning it can evade the body’s immune system), as well as enhanced transmissibility. The variants, the report further noted, are also “driving a case surge in Europe.”
“The greatest need is for next generation vaccines that are more broadly protective (with longer lasting immunity) and that can dampen transmission,” The Washington Post said, concluding that while there is a major research effort underway to achieve this, “the finish line is not yet in sight.”
With my resumption as Philippine Ambassador to the United States, we are ready to start discussions again with our friends from Moderna and Pfizer. I have already alerted our team at the Philippine embassy in Washington, D.C., to set the wheels in motion for fresh talks regarding these new highly effective boosters developed by the leading U.S. drug companies.
Clinical trial data from Moderna regarding its “bivalent booster vaccine” have shown to be highly effective against the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, which, according to Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel, “represent an emergent threat to global health.”
Pfizer is also developing a booster capable of neutralizing the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. The US FDA has also authorized Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid to be prescribed by licensed pharmacists. Paxlovid is highly effective for patients at high risk of severe illness, reducing the risk of hospitalization and death by about 89 percent.
President Marcos said he wants to enhance vaccination efforts, noting that people who have received booster shots have better immunity against the Omicron subvariants that are highly transmissible and could drive a spike in infections.
Everyone knows the vaccines developed by American companies have proven to be the most effective. The U.S. has donated millions of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to the Philippines, pledging to donate over 1.1 billion doses worldwide.
During an interview with media friends, I told them we highly recommend that the President speak at the 77th U.N. General Assembly in September. Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo has also formally recommended the President’s attendance. We will also work with our U.N. permanent representative, Ambassador Tonette Lagdameo, in arranging side meetings with other world leaders as recommended by DFA Secretary Manalo.
Even before the elections, I recommended to President BBM that perhaps one of his first major trips abroad would be to speak at the United Nations. We are confident it will also be a good working trip as this would be his first worldwide exposure as President, with the opportunity to meet several heads of state in one venue.
We are also working towards arranging a separate bilateral meeting within the year in Washington, D.C., between President Marcos and President Biden, who invited the President to come to Washington “as soon as our teams find a suitable date.”
While in New York, we hope to organize meetings with American investors and business organization leaders eager to meet the President and explore economic and investment prospects in the Philippines. I plan to meet Finance Secretary Ben Diokno this coming week to plot out the economic forums we plan to mount. During the pandemic, we conducted several virtual economic conferences, later going on the hybrid format as the COVID-19 situation eased up.
In the coming year, we plan to hold more in-person types of engagements in collaboration with the new economic managers that include Trade Secretary Fred Pascual and the team from the Board of Investments, and of course, the team of Finance Secretary Diokno and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Felipe Medalla.
Last March in Washington, the Philippines, and the U.S. signed a Memorandum of Understanding to deepen further their cooperation in developing the nuclear energy program of the Philippines and ensure resilient, inclusive, and green economic growth for the country by intensifying the work in securing reliable and sustainable energy sources, including nuclear energy.
We know that foremost in the mind of President Marcos is the economic aspect of our relationship with the United States, which we hope to intensify even further as we begin our fresh mandate following my reappointment. Everyone agrees that no single country can recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why it is important to maintain good trade and economic ties with other countries, most especially allies like the United States – a country that has always been with us at a time when we needed them most.