As the vaccine becomes more and more at our disposal, we worry about its safety and efficacy. Despite his willingness, US president-elect Joe Biden was not the first to be vaccinated. It is likely that his personal doctors are studying the risks, given his age and health. (New York Times reports today, December 22, that President Biden has just received the coronavirus vaccine.—Editor) A news report says 30% of New Zealanders are skeptical about getting the vaccine. Obviously, a considerable part of the world is anxious about the vaccine even as it continues to worry about the pandemic.
Note further, the United Kingdom and the US, two powerful and advanced nations, were the first to start the vaccination of their populace. But Germany, France and Japan are not as fast and eager. Notably, UK is in the final stretch of its acrimonious Brexit trade negotiation with the European Union. The US just concluded its presidential election and has the worst COVID-19 infection rate in the world. These are popular concerns that no doubt affect the standing of each country’s ruling class, thus the likely rush to vaccination. The three other nations could share the notion that the vaccine offers no instant relief against the pandemic, so there is really no need to rush. How is this so?
Japanese expert Masayuki Miyasaka, professor emeritus of immunology at Osaka University, voiced concern about the vaccine’s safety over the long term. “Vaccines usually take 10 years or more to develop, but the world is racing to develop COVID-19 vaccines in just a year,” he said. (Reported by www.japantimes.co.jp)
Obviously, there are certain points that need further study, e.g. the robustness of the manner the vaccine provides protection, its immediate and long-term side effects, the duration of protection, and its efficacy given racial-ethnic peculiarities. In this case, to assume that the vaccine is certainly safe and effective is at the very least irregular. This could explain the cautious language used by the US FDA—“emergency use authorization (EUA).” It is not an approval. The distinction here is that authorization is probationary, approval is final. To quote the US FDA Frequently Asked Questions on remdesivir, an EUA is given when “the product may be effective in diagnosing, treating, or preventing a serious or life-threatening disease or condition.” However, “The statutory standard for a new drug application approval requires substantial evidence of effectiveness, which is a higher level of evidence of effectiveness than required for an EUA.” By the tentative nature of its authorization, the US FDA echoes Miyasaka’s concern.
One perspective overlooked is that the pandemic created a business opportunity for vaccine manufacturers. It also enlivened competition among these firms—a race to sell and profit more on a hastily developed vaccine. This business condition is enforced by a relaxed regulatory regime that allows for quicker-than-usual cost recovery. Amid the tremendous human suffering, the pandemic flipside is big money reward to successful pharma firms—this is capitalism that is friendly to graft. Have you caught Sen. Ping Lacson’s “dropping the ball” analogy? He publicly accused Health Secretary Francisco Duque III of spoiling the deal between the US and the Philippines on the 10 million Pfizer vaccine that was supposed to arrive January 2021.
It is that the US has a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that makes paying bribes elsewhere in the world to secure business deals as unlawful. Incidentally the first manufacturers to surface as possible vaccine suppliers for the Philippines were from Russia and China—but the transparency of these countries, given the nature of their governance, is wanting. Thus, it is a challenge to judge the quality of their vaccine and the ethical conduct of their negotiations—two critical components needed to instill confidence in the use of the vaccine.
We have the longest lockdown that has resulted in severe economic downturn and increased a people’s suffering and distress. Blame this on a faulty and repressive state apparatus that failed to balance the health and economic concerns of the country. A good example of this malady are: the Edsa U-turn slots closure and the mismanaged implementation of the use of RFID in NLEX. Both caused massive traffic inconvenience to the public. Bad traffic is external to our body system but the vaccine is internal. Now, consider the vaccine risks given this backdrop. Indeed, the Philippine COVID-19 vaccination scenario is proving worrisome.
FALSE SENSE OF PROTECTION
Hence, the best reasonable approach is to be skeptical. Skepticism allows for doubts; the more one is pushed by government, its minions and broadcast media, the more one is to be doubtful and stubborn. When scientific data says that vaccine brand X & Y offer 95% effectiveness, it also means that both vaccines are 5% ineffective. There is no method yet that can say that one belongs to the 5% exclusion rate—it is still by trial-and-error. It is highly probable that a group of Filipinos can get vaccinated yet gain no protection from COVID-19, leaving many with a false sense of protection.
These vaccines are not on a buffet table for scrutiny before ingestion—yes, much like in your favorite hotel buffet. The choice of a vaccine is determined, not by experts or politicians, but by the potency of the state. The Filipinos, burdened by a corrupt and weak state, cannot expect a sound selection of a vaccine and a remedial setup in case of foul-ups like in the Dengvaxia experience.
Truth be told, it is the Filipinos themselves as a nation who are to blame for allowing a faulty and repressive state apparatus to grow—the sole cause of today’s national anguish. Let us set this political debate for another day. With vaccines now available, we ask ourselves, do I need a COVID-19 vaccination immediately? The arguments above point to a no, let others go ahead.
In the meantime we follow standard precaution. If after reasonable time, the vaccine proves effective, that’s when you decide. In time, facts could lead us to make an informed decision. Most importantly, this gives one control over one’s destiny—that is liberty.