Was the President vaccinated, too?
If he was, there is no shame in that, for a man’s first duty is self-preservation.
The commander of the Presidential Security Group is a general and a soldier. If he came upon the scarce COVID-19 vaccine, he would have had to bring it up to his Commander in Chief, the President.
Better, he would report that he had done some research on its safety, and that it is very easy to inject it by themselves. Of course he did not mean suddenly switching a rifle for a needle, because there are doctors and nurses embedded in the PSG’s station hospital right inside Malacañang. He would do it out of sheer loyalty and professionalism. It is also his path to be appointed as the next AFP chief of staff, assuming the vaccine works.
The President said the administered vaccine was from Sinopharm, a majority state-owned company of the People’s Republic of China. There is nothing wrong with the preference for this vaccine among the estimated 170 types in different stages of trials.
For one, Sinopharm uses the traditional method of using an inactive virus to trigger an immune response, which is known to be historically successful. Pfizer and Moderna use a new vaccine messenger RNA (mRNA) delivery to instruct the body to produce a harmless “spike protein” akin to the COVID-19 one. The latter is an unfamiliar technology, not tried and tested over decades of immunization programs over large populations covering varying diseases.
Second, the topline efficacy rates of these vaccines are claimed to be as high as 90 percent. More recent data from Sinopharm’s Middle East trials range from 79 percent to 86 percent. It’s sexy to read, but efficacy is only measured in controlled clinics. What matters for you and me is the effectiveness. Whether 50-percent or 90-percent efficacy, it is material only if it increases the protection of the vaccinated individual in real world settings.
No one person is the same; we have different genetics, medical conditions, and lifestyles. No two persons react to the same way to any drug. The proof is that those afflicted by COVID-19 can be entirely asymptomatic, or symptomatic with a myriad of symptoms, or be critically ill and die. Why would a vaccine not follow the individual’s constitution?
The World Health Organization’s vaccine efficacy threshold set at the minimum of 50 percent, as explained by the Department of Health, is rational. Mathematically, at 50 percent, an inoculated person is more likely than not to be protected against the virus. It represents better odds and is a huge public health improvement, especially when extrapolated into communities.
In reality, the actual factor to consider is the chance that one will get infected by the virus. It is obviously not the same for everyone. It will be higher for frontline health workers than stay-at-home workers. For Nurse A, it is imperative that he gets vaccinated. His chances of getting infected will drop by at least 50 percent. For Senior B, it is entirely optional if he wants the doses. He can continue in the safety and comfort of his home, following the same self-preservation instinct.
Lastly, since Sinopharm’s vaccine is owned by China and China is on a global “vaccine diplomacy” campaign to charm citizens of all countries to use its vaccine and present its kinder image to the world, the pinnacle of its success is the inoculation of a world leader like President Duterte. At a time when no vaccine has yet been available from the West, a chief executive of a major ally is protected by a China vaccine against a pandemic virus that started in China. Is there a better way to demonstrate our solidarity? What other way to bind our nations together?
The Chinese ambassador has direct access to President Duterte. What’s a few, free doses between friends? It is to China’s best interest that Mr. Duterte stays in good condition. Imagine the total loss of face if the China vaccine didn’t work or resulted to harm. China cannot and will not allow that to happen.
We can all agree that our President is the most essential worker of the Republic. Even if we don’t agree with all of his actions all the time. He must be given the highest priority when a vaccine becomes ready and available. If he takes Sinopharm, we will take it, too. That underlings will overprice the procurement is a different matter. The problem with the PSG vaccinations is the usual issue with government—the lack of transparency. We Filipinos innately recognize doublespeak and are turned off by hypocrisy. If, at the beginning, honesty was set as the first criterion for any vaccination program, it would have been all right. We understand the value of self-preservation.
Geronimo L. Sy is a former assistant secretary of the Department of Justice. He set up the department’s Office of Cybercrime and Office for Competition.
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