We are still in a crisis; set politics aside for now

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

National Guard’s 51st Civil Support Team, performs a COVID-19 detection test. | Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons by National Guard

Last year’s Nov. 3 US elections and the politics that went with the issue of wearing masks (or not) undoubtedly contributed to the surge of coronavirus infections here in the United States. Many of my friends told me the alarming rate of infections in the Philippines could be attributed to people’s increased movement, perhaps out of necessity. Still, as my friends also pointed out – people seem to think the pandemic is over. More than ever, we need to focus our attention on getting the vaccines first and getting people vaccinated as quickly as possible to achieve herd immunity. I hope we can set politics aside first, at least until after June, when the bulk of our vaccines will be arriving in the Philippines.

Clearly, only when the majority of our people have been vaccinated can we start seeing a tangible decrease in infections. In Israel, where almost 60 percent of the population has been vaccinated, the number of severe cases has significantly decreased, and so now they are almost back to normal.

More US states are looking at resuming face-to-face classes as the number of cases declines. In contrast, more and more Americans are getting vaccinated, averaging two million vaccinations per day. In the last eight weeks, cases in the US have continually dropped while the number of deaths has also decreased, showing very encouraging trends. According to several scientists, the number of infections plus the vaccine rollout means that a large number of Americans (about 40 percent) now have some protection against COVID-19.

“After millions of infections and the start of a vaccination campaign, the virus is finally, slowly, starting to run out of new people to infect,” said an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins University, explaining that “this level of population immunity slows down transmission.”

The Biden administration has ordered an additional 100 million doses of the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, with plans to have every adult American vaccinated by the end of May. While countries may criticize the US for cornering all their own vaccine supply, the fact is, the White House informed us they are already preparing to supply the rest of the world with vaccines towards the second half of this year. We actually called the attention of the White House to a New York Times article sent to me by Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez that the US has 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine sitting idly in their warehouse. The White House responded that they are currently setting their timeline for vaccine sharing to the world.

“There is no question that vaccines are crucial in reviving the global economy. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the global economic outlook has brightened with the vaccines’ rollout coupled with the stimulus packages from the US and several nations.”

The US, Japan, India, and Australia are also working on financing agreements to boost the manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines in India and ease the backlogs in production, speed up vaccine rollouts and counter the coronavirus mutations. In my conversation with the White House, they confirmed that ASEAN member-nations would have access to the COVID-19 vaccines developed by American pharmaceutical companies, including Novavax, which is set to supply the Philippines with 30 million doses.

There is no question that vaccines are crucial in reviving the global economy. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the global economic outlook has brightened with the vaccines’ rollout coupled with the stimulus packages from the US and several nations. The OECD says the world economy is seen to rebound and expand by 5.6 percent this year and 4 percent in 2022 – showing a marked increase of its earlier forecast in December of 4.2 percent in 2021 and 3.7 percent by 2022.

While the vaccines are slow in getting to the Philippines, we are confident a lot more supplies will be coming by June, with the number of doses steadily increasing by the third and fourth quarters of this year until we reach the 70-80 percent herd immunity, like the United States is expected to achieve by the end of May. We have, of course, already concluded a deal with Moderna for 20 million doses, and we expect to receive the first batch of delivery by June. Secretary Charlie Galvez is working tirelessly with us in securing the one-shot Johnson & Johnson supply agreements soon.

No doubt, the World Bank’s financing support with its $500-million loan and the Asian Development Bank’s $400-million loan under its Asia Pacific Vaccine Access Facility (APVAX) initiative will help the Philippines purchase vaccines that are safe and effective against COVID-19. Under the APVAX, vaccines that will get financing are those selected for procurement through COVAX, prequalified by the World Health Organization, or authorized by a stringent regulatory authority in the country of production.

“We need to continue practicing health protocols by wearing masks and face shields, maintaining social distancing, washing hands – because the worst thing that can happen is for the virus to mutate rapidly and render the vaccines we get useless. This is why, more than ever, we need to work together and put politics aside for now.”

Considering the rivalry that is also happening between countries that are manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines with false information reportedly propagated against leading vaccines, the criteria outlined by the ADB will certainly be useful in decisions to procure safe and effective vaccines for Filipinos. Besides, we can also count on our local scientists and doctors and our Food and Drug Administration to determine the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine.

The real concern now, however, is that we need to remind ourselves that the crisis is far from over. We need to continue practicing health protocols by wearing masks and face shields, maintaining social distancing, washing hands – because the worst thing that can happen is for the virus to mutate rapidly and render the vaccines we get useless. This is why, more than ever, we need to work together and put politics aside for now.
Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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