The vaccine is not the cure
Duterte’s insistence to wait for a vaccine until change can happen further exposes his lack of knowledge and control over the situation from the start. Eager to put himself and thousands at stake to test Russia’s new Sputnik V vaccine before making an effort to improve pandemic response, he shows once more how reactive and non-factual his administration’ approach to the COVID-19 pandemic is.
Vaccine development is a long, intricate process that simply cannot be rushed, even at pandemic rates. Even though the Philippines is set to conduct local Phase 3 Sputnik V trials (clinically testing thousands of people), with Duterte volunteering himself as the first to get vaccinated after, it would require at least several months of studies would be needed to thoroughly assess and identify its side effects.
Additionally, global demand and manufacturing will add to the time it will take before we can distribute it for use. These factors make it necessary that measures are implemented to mitigate the virus without a vaccine, instead of suggesting to wait for one until December.
Assuming a vaccine is completed and obtained for use, we would be presented with the challenge of establishing competent immunization programs for its safe distribution. This would require that the government can properly assess whether or not the trial results are good enough and understand the conditions the patients must meet to be vaccinated.
A failure in this part would risk losing a potential solution to the growing pandemic.
Immunization programs for Dengvaxia caused a national scandal when children were found falling seriously ill (some dying) after receiving a few doses. However, the scientists were not able to draw links between the deaths of the children to the vaccine. Additionally, Dengvaxia caused no problems to the 20 other countries it was rolled out to, and to this day, the Philippines remains the sole country to cancel its distribution.
Failures that arose could be caused by the “premature introduction” of the vaccine and the rushed implementation of a large-scale vaccination program. During this time, clinical data was not yet enough to reveal more severe cases, and the vaccination campaigns themselves were rushed in order to make it in time for elections, not allowing the health sector to make the necessary preparations for it. Because of these factors, thousands of children were given doses with insufficient knowledge on the vaccine and its behavior.
There is also an issue with national immunization coverage being alarmingly low for several years. This can be tied to the government’s neglect for the health sector, which has led to the upturn of preventable diseases like polio and measles.
It is foolish to trust the present government with the vaccine that will cure COVID-19. Months later and issues limiting contact tracing and testing are still present, such as the lack of laboratories and equipment.
There is also a concern for the incompetence of the Department of Health regarding the tracking of cases, with their dubious statements such as the announcement of mass recoveries that attempt to undermine the real situation. If they are perfectly fine with making these ridiculous decisions, how are we to believe that they can make the right ones when it is time to carry out mass immunization programs?
The lack of scientific basis in the approach the administration has taken has caused us to waste a significant amount of time that should have been for the implementation of proper systems for mass testing, which could have helped with the identification, isolation, and treatment of those infected.
Getting a vaccine, whether by rushing or by waiting for a long time, should not be the main goal. Duterte should stop pushing the idea that only a vaccine can set us free, proven already by several other countries already transitioning back to normal like New Zealand and Taiwan.
In these trying times, we cannot afford to stay idle. There is a need to majorly shift the focus of the pandemic response to testing as many as possible and improving testing capacity.
We must further intensify our calls for fixing the current pandemic response, and demand support for our health systems to sustain decent immunization programs. Stop wasting time just waiting for the cure and actually focus on getting the job done instead — uphold mass testing now!