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Eating humble pie

You deprive one nation of vaccines and Covid-19 will simply fester and not go away.

John Henry Dodson



World Health Organization (WHO) representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe could not have been more blunt in warning the country may lose further allocations of Covid-19 vaccines donated through the COVAX Facility.

As a primary mover at COVAX, a group seeking the equitable distribution of vaccines against the hoarding of the life-saving jabs now being committed by some rich nations, the WHO certainly got our attention through Abeyasinghe.

Soft-spoken the good doctor may be, but his words cut like a razor-sharp scalpel into our collective flesh as he took note of alleged violations in the prioritization of health care workers in the rollout of the jabs.

“We urge the DoH (Department of Health) and all partners engaged in the rollout of the vaccines to follow these prioritizations, so we don’t impact and jeopardize future deliveries of vaccines through the COVAX Facility to the Philippines,” Abeyasinghe said.

He was referring, of course, to reports that certain politicians got shots from the 600,000 Sinovac doses ahead of doctors and other medical workers serving in Covid-19 referral hospitals.

“If we cannot demonstrate that we are following this prioritization, unfortunately, the COVAX may have to consider other options where the impact of the vaccine rollout will be more useful and practical and will contribute to saving more lives,” the WHO official said.

Call it arm-twisting or a fair warning or whatever, the WHO official’s admonition was in line with the stated objective of COVAX and WHO to minimize the effects of the pandemic by protecting first those most at risk and vulnerable.

A life is a life is a life, and a doctor’s own is no more valuable than any other person on the street. But in war as in pandemic-hit peacetime, if one can call the latter that, saving doctors result to more lives being saved by them.

The logic is simple and governments around the world, ours included, are one with the WHO’s prioritization of the most exposed to Covid and those at most risk due to age and preexisting health conditions.

For Abeyasinghe, COVAX may choose to bring vaccines intended for the Philippines to where they would impact more in addressing the pandemic, “if there are multiple reports of violations of that prioritization.”

“My word of caution is let’s not go there,” warned the WHO official, who personally turned over this week to President Rodrigo Duterte 487,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines at Villamor Airbase.

We have been served and, unless we can buy the vaccines ourselves at this point in time when supply remains scarce and already preordered by first-world nations, we have no choice but to toe the WHO line.

This may be the reason the President let pass Abeyansinghe’s abrasive statement made just hours before the arrival of the AstraZeneca vaccines at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Effusive in thanking COVAX, Mr. Duterte hailed the “benevolence” shown by the donor countries, describing it as a “gift to humanity.”

Hearing the President, we, hopefully Abeyansinghe, too, would be reminded that the fight against Covid-19 is one that is being waged by humanity, thereby making insensitive any arbitrary withdrawal of donations especially by an organization led by WHO.

You deprive one nation of vaccines and Covid-19 will simply fester and not go away. Worse, it would further mutate as it has done so already with reportedly more virulent strains as the UK, South African and Brazilian variants.

Abeyasinghe’s threat, thinly veiled as it was, rankles but, again, it’s not like the Philippines is in a position to say we’re not having any of this. Beggars cannot be choosers.

We just have to eat humble pie, again.