FIRING LINE: Do we have a choice?

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

In Dubai, as I’ve learned from a friend, residents are entitled to free vaccination against COVID-19 and that it is voluntary. And even more conveniently, they get to choose from either of two jabs made available by the state – Pfizer-BioNTech’s or Sinopharm’s from China.

Yup, the second one’s the vaccine closest to the President’s heart. I meant that literally as his 24/7 close-in security detail walks around with it in their system. We don’t know how that China-made stuff will work for them, though, but I wish them truckloads of luck.

I am still pretty hung up with its efficacy claims:

·         There is “more than 50%” which seemed to wow DOST officials in the get-go.

·         There’s the “86%” Sinopharm floated when Pfizer declared its version was 95% effective. and

·         There’s the “100%” claimed by UAE health authorities based on their inoculation of 100,000 people.

Whichever of these is true is hard to figure since Sinopharm’s disclosures, or China’s for that matter, are not as bold, raw, and forthright as our President’s revelation that his bodyguards clandestinely injected themselves with an unregistered, unauthorized, or even smuggled serum.

For that, I find it difficult to harbor a grudge on the Presidential Security Group (PSG) for taking a shot in the arm, so to speak, for the President. Brig. Gen. Jesus Durante, PSG commander, made that “executive decision”, daring all else in the name of protecting our nation’s leader.

Heck, you only see that CIA-type of “top secret” maneuver in Hollywood spy movies!

In real life, we have a public – not an audience – that sees that with less fascination than controversy. If Senator Franklin Drilon is correct, it was an illegal act that warrants jail time. Presidential Legal Adviser Sal Panelo, however, disputed it as a violation of the FDA Law (R.A. 3720) because there was neither “importation, exportation, sale, distribution or commercial use” nor a “commercial transaction to procure the vaccines”.

To Sen. Francis Pangilinan, the nagging question is: “Why did the PSG go first and behind our backs?” But what’s to envy? Without enough information on Sinopharm’s vaccine, the risks of taking it remain unclear. Those men around the President who took the doses face that risk, and their commander is taking full responsibility for it.

I’m not saying it is right, but whatever good that’s worth, you’ve got to hand it to Durante for trying to shield the President even from legal liability. Honestly, I don’t know how that works. I’m guessing the NBI, the BOC, the FDA, and the Senate would clear that up in their respective probes.

Looking forward, let us not lose sight of the ball and the common good in picking which anti-COVID vaccine we are purchasing from the market. Government had better come together behind vaccine “czar” Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr. for a clear, fair, and sound game plan on the control and management of this still-spreading disease.

Before the approval, purchase, and rollout of any vaccine in the Philippines, shouldn’t we ask first how many Filipinos are willing to be inoculated? A recent survey conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF) with Ipsos Research showed much concern about the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines in the intention of populations across 15 countries to even take it.

What’s the deal with Sinopharm and its proposal for us to fund our own domestic trials or simply recognize their country’s approval if the risks are genuinely insignificant?

I hope that is the direction of the Senate when it convenes the Committee of the Whole on Jan. 11 to review government’s multi-billion plan.

Questions need to be answered. I want to think we, citizens, have a choice like in Dubai, not like in the PSG, even if our government intends to take the fall for the consequences.

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