I FIND it sickening for the Yellows, especially its eldest stalwart Sen. Franklin Drilon and Vice President Leonor Robredo, to use the Covid-19 pandemic – which should be uniting us all to contain it – to irresponsibly throw mud at the government’s efforts to procure the needed vaccines.
Drilon in a recent press release “lamented how the Philippines is lagging behind several countries in its Covid-19 vaccination plans, citing that six out of 10 countries in Southeast Asia have already begun their vaccination programs while the Philippines is still scrambling to secure supplies. Among the countries that have started rolling out the jabs are Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, leaving the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Thailand behind.” Robredo similarly claimed that the Philippines is “behind other neighboring countries” in vaccinating its citizens.
Drilon is lying, or hasn’t bothered to use a centavo of his office’s P100 million annual budget to do a bit of research. As usual, Robredo is clueless about what she is talking about.
Let’s set aside Singapore, which started its vaccination in January. Singapore being practically a member of the US-led club of the world’s richest nations, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had joined the US and leading Western countries in cornering the available supplies of Covid-19 vaccines, ordering them months before the first case of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (which it uses) went out of the assembly line.
In the case of three Southeast Asian countries, their vaccines were all supplied by China, at very concessional prices in the case of Indonesia, or entirely donated in the case of Laos and Cambodia. Why were they ahead?
In the case of Indonesia, we shouldn’t envy it or be surprised: it has 1.4 million Covid-19 cases and 38,000 deaths, compared to our 598,000 cases and 38,000 deaths. The Indonesian elite has also been much more open to a closer relationship with China in the past decade, and the superpower has obviously bigger strategic interests in that oil-producing country of 270 million. Chinese vaccines account for 85 percent of the 314 millions for Indonesia’s confirmed orders.
Indonesia, because it is a developing nation that is the worst hit by the COVID-19 (ranked 18th, while we are way much better in the 30th slot in the worldometers ranking) was also a major recipient of vaccines from the Covax ( Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access) facility. This is an international effort by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations, private donors such as the Gates Foundation, and the vaccine manufacturers to provide poorer countries access to the Covid-19 vaccines, as the richer nations have hoarded much of the supply. Ironically, it is also several of these rich nations which gave substantial funds for the Covax facility.
Cambodia and Laos of course are not only much poorer than us, they are China’s closest allies in Southeast Asia, while we — or the past regime – even quarreled with it, filing a suit against it that inflamed the feelings of ordinary Chinese against us.
Myanmar’s vaccines on the other hand so far were mainly supplied by its neighbor India, which has also adopted a policy of providing the vaccine needs of poorer countries, because of the West’s cornering of the Covid-19 vaccines. While this is arguably part of its soft-power diplomacy as it is on the way to becoming a superpower, even rivaling China in Asia, India by doing so will also boost its privately owned Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.
In short, Drilon is so totally ignorant of the fact that if vaccinations of other Southeast Asian countries seemed to be ahead of us – by a few weeks, for chrissakes – it wasn’t due to the government’s inefficiency. It was entirely due to China, India and Covax’s decisions, mostly appropriate for the reasons discussed above, to supply these countries first with their vaccines.
We are actually in the same boat as these countries for the first half of the year. The vaccines available now in the country were all supplied by Covax (400,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine which arrived March 4 ) and by China (600,000 doses of CoronaVac on March 1). China has committed to supply 25 million doses. The government is negotiating to purchase 30 million doses from the Serum Institute of India.
The reality is that the US and other rich nations have cornered all of the world’s available supplies of the Covid vaccine. The US, EU and UK have commitments from manufacturers or have already received 1.2 billion, 1.8 billion, and 457 million doses, respectively. With a population of 38 million, Canada has procured doses and has committed orders of 314 million, enough to vaccinate their entire population five times over.
Our government however has managed to order vaccines so far totaling 92 million, certainly a very commendable achievement, given our strict procurement requirements, as shown in the accompanying figure from Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Center. Except for Indonesia, which has a worse pandemic situation, all of the countries Drilon admires have much smaller confirmed vaccine orders.
Out of the 92 million doses, 30 million will be from the new Novavax (a new Maryland, US company), 25 million of the Chinese Sinovac, 20 million from the American Moderna, and 17 million from AstraZeneca through the Covax facility. In advanced stages of negotiations is the procurement of 30 million vaccines from the Serum Institute of India.
So far, vaccines from Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Sanofi have been cornered by the US and other Western countries.
This is the second time in three months that this Yellow leader put his foot in his mouth in his pathetic attempt to put down this country (see my column “Drilon’s ‘P33B’ dud: Devious, desperate or dumb?” , Dec. 9, 2020). He should just sleep. Robredo is hopeless.