| Photo courtesy of magazine.jhsph.edu
President Duterte’s very first speech at the United Nations General Assembly last Tuesday has caught global attention, with many lauding it for being direct to the point and cohesive, tackling many issues that include the COVID-19 pandemic and the South China Sea.
Many Filipino-Americans told me the President’s call for universal access to the coronavirus vaccine for both rich and poor nations strongly resonated with them.
“The world is in the race to find a safe and effective vaccine. When the world finds that vaccine, access to it must not be denied nor withheld. It should be made available to all, rich and poor nations alike, as a matter of policy,” the President said, emphasizing that countries must work together with “seamless unity which demands complete mutual trust and the conviction that we will win or lose together” for the world to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This “landmark” deal has been agreed upon by 156 countries, with the initial doses to be made available to a tightly targeted 3 percent of the population that would include frontline health workers, then building up to include 20 percent of the most vulnerable population in each country.”
The President’s appeal is in sync with the ultimate goal of COVAX – or the COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Plan that is co-led by the World Health Organization – to generate two billion vaccines by 2021 and ensure that this would reach all countries, not just the rich ones, as lower income nations will be given financial support so they will also have access once the vaccines become available.
This “landmark” deal has been agreed upon by 156 countries, with the initial doses to be made available to a tightly targeted 3 percent of the population that would include frontline health workers, then building up to include 20 percent of the most vulnerable population in each country. As WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus put it, countries will have “guaranteed access to the world’s largest portfolio of vaccine candidates” under COVAX.
I also received assurances here in Washington, D.C. by the US government in coordination with pharmaceutical companies at the forefront of vaccine development that once there is enough supply, it will be made available to the rest of the world, especially allies like the Philippines.
“The fact is, we are not the only country that is anxious for a vaccine to be available soon but the whole world as well, which is why there are so many countries that are also investing on the development of a vaccine.”
The fact is, we are not the only country that is anxious for a vaccine to be available soon but the whole world as well, which is why there are so many countries that are also investing on the development of a vaccine. Even the World Economic Forum acknowledges that “the only real hope of ending the pandemic is with a vaccine.”
No question there is no magic formula to eradicate the virus. And even when the vaccine is made available, slowing down COVID-19’s virality is not going to happen overnight. But clearly, many scientists believe that having a vaccine is a definitive way to combat the pandemic and is the only solution that could make a significant impact for the world to move towards “normalcy.”
Despite what some critics continue to carp about, our government is doing what it can to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. The lockdown – first imposed early in March – was a correct move on the part of the government, with stricter quarantine categories imposed on areas with high population density such as Metro Manila as the congestion in the metropolis made it more difficult to slow down the spread of the virus. Admittedly, the rise in the infections is also a consequence of the difficult balancing act between the economy and health as people also must make a living.
Each country has its own approach to managing the pandemic. Some countries like Spain that did not impose lockdowns in the beginning continue to suffer with record-high cases, especially in densely populated regions like Madrid. Europe to this day continues to see a spike in COVID-19 cases. According to the regional director of the World Health Organization, more than half of European countries have reported a greater than 10 percent increase in the past two weeks. The UK is also seeing rate cases doubling by the week, compelling Prime Minister Boris Johnson to warn about new restrictions that could last for six months, saying their country is at “a perilous turning point.”
Contrary to accusations by some detractors, the government is not sitting idly by or waiting – it is already laying down the plans for the seamless entry of vaccines in the country, with the Department of Health giving assurances that a detailed roadmap would be provided for vaccine procurement. Meantime, the Inter-Agency Task Force or IATF is working out a plan for the deployment of the vaccines that will be procured and the number of doses that would be needed.
The Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or the Bayanihan 2 bill that the President recently signed into law is a definitive measure as it provides for a P165-billion fund for pandemic response and recovery, with P10 billion set aside as a standby fund for COVID-19 testing as well as purchase of medicines and vaccines once these become available.
“The UN General Assembly was the right place and the right time for the President to assert before a global audience that “we firmly reject attempts to undermine the ruling.”
During the UN General Assembly, the President also took up the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling on the South China Sea that favored the Philippines, saying “the Award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon.”
From the very beginning of his term, the President had said he will take up the matter of the arbitral ruling at the right time and the right place. The UN General Assembly was the right place and the right time for the President to assert before a global audience that “we firmly reject attempts to undermine the ruling.”
Nothing can be clearer than that.