IT is a certainty that if we only have fidelity toward science, vaccines will work once they are granted approval by regulators. As many experts in vaccines state, there is no perfect vaccine, but once they get approval by scientific bodies that are bestowed with the authority, there is a certainty that they will possess a level of efficacy that can be trusted.
There are anti-vaxxers who express doubt not only about the vaccine for the coronavirus disease of 2019 (Covid-19), but also about the very idea of vaccination. The bad experience that we had with Dengvaxia did not help at all. And what is worrisome to many of them is the fact that while it takes years to develop a vaccine, in the case of Covid-19 it only took less than a year. But then again, the fact remains that for anti-vaxxers, it is not the speed that is the problem but vaccination in general.
I personally take a risk in allowing myself to be vaccinated, in the same manner that I allowed all my children to be vaccinated. I have completed my pneumonia shots, even as I regularly have my annual flu shots. I would willingly avail of a Covid-19 vaccine that would meet my standard of comfort, and I am already allotting financial resources to enable my entire family, including our house helpers, to be vaccinated.
This is a personal decision that we would take. Nevertheless, I respect the decision of others, who based on surveys are in fact the majority, to refuse. Although I would urge them to reconsider in the light of the fact that this is no longer just about individual choices but about something that has become a public good. After all, many of us have never experienced our economy and our lives being disrupted by dengue, or even pneumonia and influenza, in the magnitude and scale that we have experienced with Covid-19. I am even willing to push for a controversial move that those who will be vaccinated should be given more freedom of movement — perhaps exemptions from lockdowns, and more freedom to travel — which those who refuse may not easily enjoy.
There are people who politicize vaccination, in the same manner that many would politicize the wearing of masks and face shields and reduce these to issues of rights. It would have been easier to appreciate this had it been possible for the virus not to be an equal opportunity killer, or that it doesn’t destroy livelihoods and upend an entire economy.
Unfortunately, while the virus may discriminate and selectively find its targets among those who flaunt their politics by not wearing masks and shields, or not getting vaccinated, the impact is felt even by those who comply. Everyone’s lives are disrupted. Total lockdowns disenable productivity, hospital capacities are filled up to the detriment of those with other illnesses. The additional expense for testing now required for a non-Covid-19-related illness just because it has Covid-19-like symptoms is already a burden not shouldered before.
It is in this context that Covid-19 should go beyond the politics of individual rights in the sense that one doesn’t have the absolute right to insist on the freedom to refuse to get vaccinated or wear a mask or a face shield. The final accounting of rights should now rest on the good of the collective or what we refer to as the public interest. It is in the same logic as people being free to drink, but they may not drive if they are drunk because they become moving threats to the limbs and lives of others. Similarly, people have the right to smoke, but they can only do so in places where this is allowed, simply because passive smoking is dangerous to the health even of nonsmokers.
Vaccination during a pandemic is now an issue of public interest, and it is the duty of government to ensure that there is a systematic, efficient and timely process by which vaccines are procured and administered to as many people as possible. And it is here that citizens have the right to politicize the issue when the government fails to deliver. And to be critical becomes a duty if and when our government’s preference for vaccines is not dictated by science or economics but by this unexplainable fixation on China.
It is really distressing that while other countries are already administering the vaccines, we seem to be still in the process of negotiating deals with vaccine developers. Representatives of government, who carry the title of czars, insist that local government units and the private sector cannot directly sign deals with vaccine developers, and have to procure these through the government simply because these vaccines will be given an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) only.
I rarely agree with Sen. Cynthia Villar, but she really made a good point during the recent Senate hearing on the issue. She asked what is causing the delay, and why can’t the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) give EUA on vaccines that have been vetted and approved by the FDAs of other countries with equally, if not more, stringent requirements, such as the United States, Canada, Singapore and the European Union.
A more fundamental question that needs to be asked is if indeed the FDA does not allow the local government units or the private sector to procure and administer the vaccines without its approval, it then behooves us to ask why the Presidential Security Group and the Chinese gaming companies were able to procure and administer unregistered vaccines.
It is a fact that vaccines, provided that science is allowed to do its job, may not fail. They may have the predicted side effects and contraindications, but these are known and can be solved by science. But what becomes more dangerous is when governments fail. And our experience tells us that they can.