Domondon: The ugly nature of vaccine politics

Open Season

THERE has been so much furor going around with the utilization of various types of vaccines against the Covid-19 virus that one may well wonder whether governments are still on top of the situation or the manufacturers of these vaccines have taken over in a worldwide money-making monopoly of the drug.

At the other end is the extreme probability that the manufacture of these vaccines and delays being experienced in their deliveries have something to do with rich countries coercing these pharmaceutical companies in their attempt to hoard the drug for themselves. This is an unthinkable and morally depraved action that will further increase the suffering of other poor nations already being pummeled by the pandemic.

Only recently, beginning this year, we have the vaccine maker AstraZeneca at odds with the European Union (EU) over delays in the delivery of its vaccines in an apparent growing rift and putting to the fore the jostling international competition over apparent limited supplies of the vaccines needed to stop the virus.

For its part, the Chief Executive of AstraZeneca Pascal Soriot defended his company and the delay in the delivery of its vaccines citing problems in connection with its production capacity which has rapidly grown. Soriot claimed that AstraZeneca's contract with the EU, a 27 nation member bloc, was not actually a firm commitment to deliver an agreed-upon number of vaccines at a determinate schedule but were actually targets that may or may not be met immediately or at some future date. In other words, the contract, from the standpoint of AstraZeneca, is simply a best effort arrangement and should not be interpreted through strict contractual obligations.

Contrast this with the Philippines when in February of this year was already notified by AstraZeneca that it will no longer accept any orders for its vaccines. According to Jose Maria Conception III, who is the presidential adviser on entrepreneurship, they obtained information that AstraZeneca can no longer meet the demand for its vaccines and that the 17 million doses procured by the country from a tripartite agreement between the Philippine government, private sector and local government units (LGUs) will be the last one to be delivered if it will be delivered at all.

Earlier to this, the Philippines received an initial shipment of about 500,000 doses from AstraZeneca through the Covax Facility, a global risk-sharing mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. This is actually the second brand of vaccine provided to the Philippines with Sinovac from China being the first one.

But the problem with the drugmaker AstraZeneca had with the EU was not the end of its woes considering that very recently some EU member nations came out with declarations that there are rare cases of blood clotting experienced by some of its citizens who got vaccinated with AstraZeneca. This alleged disturbing side effect of the vaccine quickly gained prominence and with some countries temporarily halting the use of the said vaccine. Here in the Philippines, the use of AstraZenica’s Covis-19 vaccine was suspended but only for those below 60 years old because of the report on incidents of rare blood clots in some individuals.

This time, there was no immediate reaction from drugmaker AstraZeneca but in an unexpected move that came about immediately and soon after the rare blood clot incidents (arm twisting or coercion tactic employed by EU?) a report coming from experts from the European Medicines Agency arrived at the conclusion that the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is actually and still safe for use despite some cases of blood clots among the millions who have received the vaccine.

So in the end, the EU and AstraZeneca both got what they wanted. The EU will be able to obtain its vaccines from AstraZeneca immediately while the latter will continue to enjoy the privilege of manufacturing and selling millions of vaccines all around the world.

In the meantime, as a result of the squabble between one of the richest bloc of nations and a prominent drugmaker, more and more of the population worldwide are now confused more than ever if the inoculation they will stand to receive will actually prevent the Covid-19 virus from infecting them in the future or is simply a means to an end for rich countries to further enrich themselves and advance their own selfish interests at the expense of the health of peoples from the third world and other poor countries.


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