The Vaccine Chaos: Taking the COVID-19 crisis to new heights

By Marianne De Jesus and Shanin Kyle Manuel

Illustration by Christina Cambiado

Nine months have passed since the onslaught came, yet a sense of urgency seems to be absent among statesmen as only the Filipinos themselves lend a hand to one another to survive the crises.

Earlier pronouncements from the President state that he is eager to curb the virus to fast track the return to the new normal. Despite not closing borders immediately when a first infected person has been detected, he still parades his populist tactic that he cares for the welfare of the people. With this, emergency powers have been enacted to pave the way for faster response through a hefty budget under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. However, leaders’ actions after the passage of necessary bills for the COVID-19 response show otherwise.

Headlines of news are being plagued with piles of bodies scattered on hospital floors, people committing suicide because of non-affordability to know whether they are infected or not. Still, the only militaristic response and corruption scandals have been the answer of the COVID-19 task force leaving Filipinos a hint of administration insincerity.

The then-narrative of wanting to curb the virus through lockdowns has been changed to “endure” coronavirus restrictions until December and pin hopes on a vaccine, as he claims that no preventions can eradicate the soaring cases of infections. However, neighboring countries’ aggressive actions show that response can make a difference despite the absence of a vaccine should he choose to work genuinely, but he never did.

Moreover, as mandated by the law, updates of the task force regarding the state of the nation must be publicized every Monday. Yet only reiterations of the false dichotomy that only a vaccine can save us and spewing unnecessary remarks have been witnessed.

Propaganda like this has worked and inculcated the minds of the people to shift the burden to individual actions instead of demanding accountability.

Now that vaccine trials and development have been launched in the international arena, Filipinos have high hopes that lockdown will be eased as soon as vaccines roll out in the country.

Welfare for whom?

As the Filipino people endure a pandemic response from a government that puts their interest in the backseat, behind the scenes, a worst-case scenario is yet to come.

On December 16, Senator Panfilo Lacson undraped Francisco Duque’s negligence to secure the vaccine as the ever-failing secretary boggled to buy 10-million doses from Pfizer due to delinquency to work on necessary requirements.

The supposed vaccine arrival next month has been spoiled and pushed to a later date because of him dropping the ball. Instead, he chose to be subservient to his master to marshal the more costly China-made 50% efficacy vaccine.

At a time when the people are just pinning their remaining hopes to the vaccine in ending the crises, missing the bus cannot take place as it entails longer suffering for the people. Yet with his consecutive failures, Duque proves that every action of the government is marred with incompetence.

Meanwhile, Duterte, a known dilapidating man who cannot walk the talk, once again wore a mask blackmailing the United States to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) should it fail to provide 20 million vaccine doses to the Philippines.

This rhetoric by a “strongman” is nothing but an empty threat to the imperialist as Duterte is a devoted disciple of the policies imposed by the Pentagon. Coupled with this, he appointed ex-military generals known as pro-US in top agency ranks to coddle and follow his orders to suppress the people.

He, himself, as the numerous times of VFA abrogation postponement manifest, know that the termination is just a populist tactic to save his deteriorating value to the Filipino people. At the end of the day, no matter what their pandemic response decision may be, Duterte and his followers work only for the welfare of themselves.

The few who “heal as one”

The masses were told that the vaccine is the panacea to all the burdens passed to them — not only by the virus but also by the administration. Under the banner “We heal as one,” the administration lures them into thinking that the brunt of the pandemic will come to an end.

Vaccine promises spread like rumors. The wealthiest few are incredibly thrilled to spring back to “their” new normal, while the poorer population is left with nothing but fear of being left behind. Once vaccines are rendered as a profit-maximizing tool, the COVID-19 crisis will only aggravate the already-existing health inequities they’re facing.

The impending success of vaccine trials creates a new climate of uncertainty and possible chaos the sooner vaccines are made available for mass use. Time and again, the rudderless administration is likely to harness their power and turn those vaccines into a political tool. Such irresponsibility will only expose and exacerbate the divide between the rich and the marginalized. This has already been proven by the latest VIP testing scramble in the country. Several months ago, government officials secured test kits for themselves, leaving the rest of the population with no to little access to these resources.

It’s happening again at present, with the members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) already vaccinated with the unauthorized drugs of Sinopharm. According to Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, even some Cabinet members were injected.

It’s worthy to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval is needed before any potential vaccines are made available for emergency use. Backroom deals are, then, made only to “heal” the few. That corrupted move violates the law and blatantly disregards the calls of medical frontliners and vulnerable groups to be prioritized for vaccination given the limited supply. Following the country’s vaccination road map, military troops and police are supposed to be the fifth priority next to healthcare workers, indigent senior citizens, other senior citizens, and the rest of the indigent population.

In defense, PSG Commander BGen. Jesus Durante asserted that the vaccination of the military is necessary so as not to risk the President’s health and safety. On the same note, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque claimed that the President approves the military inoculation.

Even before the pandemic, the masses have been facing the worst effects of income inequality and health disparities. This is manifested in the skewed transmission of diseases and mortality rates. Now that everyone’s dealing with a harrowing public health crisis, the last thing the poor need is to face such inequitable distribution of the only thing that will protect them from the virus — because the government can’t.

The more the crisis gets unregulated the more those with greater bargaining power can freely dictate the costs of vaccines to generate huge profits. Ambitious politicians may even take advantage of the situation and use the vaccine as a bargaining chip to attract the general public — especially that Election Day is close.

It’s hard to imagine, then, what awaits those with less market power. It seems that they’re stuck in a cycle: the most vulnerable of them are even more placed at a disadvantaged position, groveling in poverty. The administration should know that this is bound to happen and address the inequities as soon as the vaccines aren’t yet in the hands of a few.

Most importantly, we should heal as one. The debacle does not only confront inequitable distribution — it is also a matter of human rights… and human lives.



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