An unexpected reality, the COVID-19 vaccine delay

February 22, 2021

While the country awaits the COVID-19 vaccines, many continue to speculate on the vaccine’s efficacy and safety. Such trauma was caused by the Dengvaxia fiasco a few years ago. Don’t forget how the Philippine government handled the vaccine to support the anti-dengue campaign which turned into a disaster. To date, three executives of the French pharmaceutical firm have been recently issued warrants of arrest by the Quezon City regional trial courts (QC-RTC).

So, do you still wonder why we have a delay in the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines? The special document called the “indemnification agreement” required by the big COVID-19 manufacturers protects them from such legal cases. The Philippine government is required to sign a waiver that mentions an “indemnification program.” Such waiver frees the manufacturers of being liable for unexpected adverse effects the vaccine may cause during this “emergency” period.

I’m pretty sure our DOH secretary never saw this coming. While other countries are enjoying the influx of COVID-19 vaccines without pharmas requiring such a document, we need to bear the brunt. Why the Philippines? History should tell us why. The big firms (from the grapevine) know us too well. The timing of the release of the QC-RTC warrant of arrest of the Sanofi executives on the Dengvaxia criminal case just a few weeks ago (while we were awaiting delivery of the COVID-19 vaccines) could have also triggered the sensitivity of the manufacturing firms.

With all the fuss on simulating the COVID-19 vaccine arrival, Secretary Duque never saw this coming. The unexpected reality was bound to happen. We should always be conscious that our past actions will haunt us in the future. Even if it wasn’t the work of this administration, our government is only one in the eyes of the world. Abangan!

Sinovac vaccines from China are expected to arrive tomorrow, Feb. 23. But according to FDA director general Eric Domingo, the agency could not yet decide on the application of Sinovac for emergency use authorization (EUA) because the vaccine company has still to submit four required documents. It must be noted that as part of the protocol, an application for EUA goes through the Ethics Board, vaccine expert panel and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for evaluation of the vaccine’s safety or efficacy profile, quality and manufacturing.

Domingo added that Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca were issued the EUA because they have already passed stringent regulatory authorities in other countries. Aside from Sinovac, the Gamaleya Center of Russia is also short of 14 documents for its EUA application for Sputnik vaccines.

Meanwhile, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the 117,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccines is scheduled to arrive in the country early March. But shipment can only be scheduled upon completion of the indemnification agreement signed recently by the President. WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said that other shipments of vaccines may also be delivered by late March or early April.

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Health News of Healthline talks about COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effects: What to Know Now. It reports that the most common reported side effect following vaccination is pain at the injection site. Some vaccine recipients also developed short-lived flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue, headache, body aches, chills and fever. Swollen lymph nodes have also been reported.

Trial data have shown that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are safe and appear to have mostly mild side effects that over-the-counter pain relievers can treat. In the US, severe allergic reactions have been reported, but in all those cases, people were successfully treated.

Since issuing EUAs for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the federal government has continued to collect information about reported side effects, including rare cases of anaphylaxis or severe allergic reactions following vaccination.

The report also says that Johnson & Johnson and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines appear to be somewhat less effective than the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, but they have similar safety profiles and reported side effects such as sore arm, fever or chills.

An independent survey conducted early this year has found that only 25 percent of respondents in Metro Manila are willing to get an anti-coronavirus vaccine shot when the vaccine becomes available in the country. According to a poll conducted by Pulse Asia, nearly half of Filipinos said that they would not get vaccinated against COVID-19. Concern about safety of the vaccines is the primary reason. Others cited financial constraints as a reason. Five percent think it is not needed to combat the coronavirus.

A recent online survey conducted by University of Santo Tomas professors and students showed that only 55.9 percent of their 15,651 respondents are willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Nine in 10 respondents are worried about side effects, efficacy and safety of the vaccines. Almost 98 percent are also worried about fake vaccines, while others expressed concerns that the vaccines will cost high, were made too quickly, not tested properly or are not effective against the virus variants. Majority also said that they will agree to be vaccinated if many people or if politicians get it first.

The group also said that the government must make a concerted effort to convince Filipinos that the scientific process is enough to ensure the safety and efficacy of vaccines, regardless of the country of origin.

As we await the coming of the vaccines to our shores, government better get their act together. It isn’t helpful to hear contradicting statements, policies, news and protocols. Always expect the unexpected and know how to deal with it properly instead of making a mockery out of it. Action speaks louder than words.

For the country to believe that the vaccines will resolve our woes, public servants – not even frontliners or military – should be first in line and this includes: the President, the Vice President, the Cabinet secretaries, the mayors, the barangay officials, Congress and Senate.

Leadership by example is the key, especially during this time of crisis. As John Maxwell put it, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.”

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