HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRIPE-VINE: OUR NEW ABNORMAL (XXIV)
It’s COVID vaccine fever time! Pfizer & Moderna euphorically announced the over 90% success ratios of their Phase 3 trials and their plans to secure US FDA approval, and we had AstraZeneca & Oxford University following suit with their own glowing news about their markedly different type of vaccine.
With typical British understatement, the BBC called the Oxford University vaccine “highly effective,” downplaying the interim data suggesting 70% protection; and instead highlighting the fact that the Oxford jab is far cheaper (at £3) than Pfizer’s (around £15) or Moderna’s (around £25) and, more importantly, it can be stored at regular fridge temperature – as opposed to the Pfizer & Moderna vaccines requiring much colder temperatures for storage. Easier to mass produce and distribute, AstraZeneca has made a no-profit pledge on their vaccine.
What this means is that it will be far easier to distribute Astra’s vaccine to far flung corners of the world, in tropical climes, and to remote areas. This Oxford vaccine uses a very different approach; as it’s a genetically modified common cold virus that was used to infect chimpanzees. Altered, it now carries a blueprint of the spike protein of the coronavirus. Inside the body, the immune system recognizes the spike protein as a threat, and produces antibodies and T-cells to destroy the infected cells. Thus, if the patient encounters the coronavirus again, the antibodies and T-cells are triggered to fight the virus.
What I read suggests that once again, the vaccine is administered in two doses – first a half-sized jab of a dose, then a full-sized second dose a few weeks later. With more than 20,000 volunteers in the trials held in the UK and Brazil, no one getting the actual vaccine developed severe-COVID or needed hospital treatment. The vaccine’s architect, Prof. Sarah Gilbert, was proud to call the results, “… another step closer to the time when we can use vaccines to bring an end to the devastation caused by the virus.” And Prof. Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford vaccine group, called it a “vaccine for the world.”
Interesting then to see which vaccine makes it to the Philippines first*, and how enthusiastic Filipinos will be to have the shots administered to them. The SinoVac trials may have hit speed bumps in Brazil, but the Chinese-owned biotech company insists this has nothing to do with the efficacy of their vaccine, and are going full speed with its distribution.
What is encouraging is that with all the news, the cloud of skepticism about science and technology, that still persists in several corners of the world may soon lift. These scientists and researchers may have been toiling under the vestiges of biotech companies angling for a golden payback, but you can’t argue with how it will spell relief for so many, and help bring normalcy back.
*reports Friday put this AstraZeneca vaccine as the front runner for ‘arriving’ here in the Philippines, as we’ve ordered close to 3 million doses.
In their own time of need
It’s easy to exhibit and talk about largesse and altruism when your revenue-generating “faucet” is in free flow, and there seems to be no end to your vista of possibilities. But what happens when COVID strikes, and the “gripo” starts sputtering, and the channels of revenue have been severely compromised?
That’s why I’ll offer a firm and hardy salute to PAGCOR, and its commitment to play a decisive role in economic recovery and relief operations despite facing drastically diminishing returns. Rather than shirk at the responsibility, and bury its head in the sand; it has endeavored to find ways and means to still play a vital role, and be an essential contributor to helping our citizenry through the travails and woes it has faced this year – from the 2020 first quarter pandemic, to the spate of natural disasters which befell us in the last few months.
The announcement last week was about PAGCOR allocating P2 billion for the construction of multi-purpose evacuation centers (MPEC) in typhoon-prone provinces. As Chairman and CEO Andrea Domingo said, this is in spite of significant revenue losses due to the suspension of gaming operations and strict community quarantine measures. PAGCOR also deployed teams to Albay, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Marikina, Isabela, and Cagayan to provide immediate relief. But looking long-term and recognizing how LGUs may not be able to always cope on their own, these PAGCOR MPEC’s can help fill the gap.
PAGCOR has initially approved 32 MPEC’s to be constructed in 31 sites. These include Albay, Aurora, Batangas, Camarines Sur, Capiz, Ilocos Sur, Laguna, Mountain Province, Marikina, Northern Samar, Oriental Mindoro, Pampanga, Quezon, Romblon, Rizal, Southern Leyte, Tarlac, and Zamboanga del Sur. There are three types of donation, and PAGCOR will directly turn over the funding to beneficiary-LGU’s.
Of more immediate concern and impact, PAGCOR deployed teams to Tuguegarao City, Cagayan, to distribute food and non-food packs to indigent families of low-lying communities that had been isolated for days as floodwaters sent residents to their roofs for temporary shelter. And there was P20,000 financial assistance from PAGCOR to each family with a family member who perished during the flooding and landslides that hit the province in the wake of Typhoon Ulysses.
Keeping busy, Chairman Domingo presided over a kickoff ceremony for the country’s first-ever Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) hospital in Pampanga. A 100-bed project that will cost P500 million, this facility will rely on the donation of Bloomberry Cultural Foundation, Inc. (BCFI), a foundation established by the operator of Solaire Resort & Casino. As Domingo called it, this hospital will help our country’s modern-day heroes who endure homesickness to provide for their families and keep the economy afloat. Yet, quite often, very little assistance or recognition is given to them when they finally return and retire. Secretary of Labor & Employment Silvestre Belo III was on hand, citing the soon-to-rise facility for promoting the welfare of our OFW’s.
Here was PAGCOR in a time of their “little,” still helping the “many.” More power to PAGCOR.