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FLEA MARKET OF IDEAS

Waiting for a vaccine

I have an uncle who died because of the COVID-19 virus. I have a doctor-friend who has also become a casualty of the virus. I have two friends who contracted the virus but who have thankfully recovered. I have an officemate who is positive for the virus, but who’s currently on the road to recovery. My Makati office building has eight incidents of infection, while the condominium building which serves as my city residence has reported one incident.

Is my circumstance typical in terms of the number of people proximate to me who have either succumbed to the virus or who have gotten infected with it? Given the accelerating number of infections lately, I am probably not too far off from being an average person, at least among Metro Manila residents. The numbers are way down, however, in the provinces.

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I have undergone rapid testing twice, and thankfully I had negative results on both occasions. I have retreated to the province where I have been staying for the past four months, except for a one-week stay in Metro Manila. I work from home with the aid of email, Zoom, Viber, and WhatsApp. How long will this kind of work condition last? Should I settle in and make permanent arrangements because this is the new normal?

The World Health Organization has a tally of 27 developers/manufacturers which have reported that the COVID-19 vaccines they are developing are already in clinical evaluation. The countries where these manufacturers are nationals are as follows: China 8, United States 7, United Kingdom 2, India 2, Australia 2, Japan 1, Germany 1, Canada 1, South Korea 1, Taiwan 1, Russia 1. Of these manufacturers, six have reported that they are already in phase three of the clinical stage, and these include three manufacturers in China, two in the United States, and one in the United Kingdom.

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Apart from the 27 developers/manufacturers in the clinical trial stage, there are 139 others that are also trying to develop vaccines, although they are still in the preclinical stage.

The whole world has been reduced to a hide-and-seek strategy against the virus while waiting for a vaccine. There’s a sputtering of hopeful news that an effective vaccine can become available by the end of this year. But there are experts who also say it is unlikely that a 100-percent effective vaccine will become available even by 2021.

The United States has aggressively made moves to corner the supply of an effective vaccine as soon as they are available. It has initiated a program called “Operation Warp Speed,” aimed at accelerating the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines for Americans. The US Congress has set aside a $10 billion budget, and the fund has been used to assist several companies engaged in research and clinical trials. The United States has made advance payments totaling $5.7 billion to three companies for 300 million doses of a successful vaccine that they can develop, and naturally they are intended for its 330 million population.

President Duterte has staked our country’s salvation from the virus on the benevolence of China. During his State of the Nation Address last week, the President disclosed that he pleaded with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to prioritize the Philippines when it successfully develops a vaccine. However, Mr. Duterte did not say if the Chinese leader responded with an assurance.

With a population of 1.4 billion, Chinese citizens will naturally be prioritized first. After that, the countries that will be recipients of a Chinese vaccine will be determined by business and geopolitical considerations. Do we have the financial firepower to elbow out other countries in order to get ahead in the line of buyers? Are we geopolitically important to China to such an extent that it will woo us with a priority supply of vaccine? And should we rely on a Chinese vaccine despite the recent warning of the US top infectious disease official, Anthony Fauci, who urged caution on Chinese-manufactured vaccines?

While we wait for answers, the President has advised his countrymen to disinfect their face masks with gasoline. The President didn’t say if that advice was Xi Jinping’s answer to his plea.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, Flea Market of Ideas, Joel Ruiz Butuyan, vaccine-first policy
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