The welcome spoiler

CTALK
Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) – January 18, 2021 – 12:00am

The decision of Pfizer to offer their COVID-19 vaccine at non-profit prices just like AstraZeneca is the sort of spoiler we all love. Yes, the term spoiler comes to mind but a very positive spoiler on many levels. First and foremost because Pfizer has what is perceived and deemed to be the most superior among available COVID-19 vaccines, their decision to offer their vaccine at cost raises our collective hope and assurance that more people will have access to the best, especially when Pfizer emphasized that they will give the offer to “poorer countries” who don’t have the means to compete with first world countries that have essentially pre-booked and reserved ahead of the world. Not only did they spoil the advantage of first world countries, they actually, alongside AstraZeneca, leveled the playing field.

On another level, the Pfizer move might also qualify as an aggressive geo-political strategy of the US government and an American company to thwart the influence of China in the field of medicine, particularly in expanding China’s influence through vaccines. I’m sure the US State Department must have been troubled by the global announcements where Chinese-made vaccines were bought and used by government leaders such as the president of Indonesia, defended by the President of the Philippines, etc. What to mere mortals may seem ordinary news is to political observers significant “chess moves” on the Asian board. The Pfizer announcement will at the very least step on the brakes and force Asian if not global leaders to think twice about getting loans or grants and buying the China-made vaccine. Besides which, it would be so ironic if the country where COVID-19 came from ends up becoming the country that makes the most profit for selling the vaccine for COVID-19! The only way the US can honor the 393,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 is to prevent China from profiting from it. Come to think of it, you’d think that China could have and should have offered their vaccines at cost from the very beginning but did not. If only for this, no one should buy China-made vaccines sold at a profit.

The third and final spoiler I feel is the fact that the Pfizer announcement has forced the Duterte administration to seriously reconsider their deal with Sinovac for 25 million doses of the made-in-China vaccine. After stealthily entering into a deal and telling Filipinos not to be choosy about a vaccine that costs so much more than the other vaccines in the market at 50 percent less in effectivity, the Duterte administration will now have to eat humble pie and step back from their deal with Sinovac or face lawsuits for years to come. The spoiler move by Pfizer SAVES the Philippine government several BILLION PESOS!!! We should be giving Pfizer and AstraZeneca medals and the highest recognition from the people of the Philippines for saving lives and saving billions of taxpayers’ money!

Maybe after all this, the officials at the Department of Health beginning with Secretary Francisco Duque and his “We bulong” brigade of anti-pharma consultants will rethink their defensive and paranoid attitudes toward the foreign pharmaceutical companies. Instead of stone walling them and ignoring them, DOH officials should learn to talk, negotiate, compromise and focus on reaching favorable agreements with reputable companies instead of politically sponsored products and corporations from China.

*      *      *

“Millions of families are just one medical bill away from poverty. It is deeply immoral that the one bill that could send your family into poverty is inflated with opaque costs” – Congressman Joey Salceda.

At the beginning of the COVID lockdown sometime early April, a family friend from the US asked for assistance on behalf of a Philippine-based friend who had gotten into a motorcycle accident, was brought by first responders to a top hospital in Metro Manila and was processed for several days from ER to private room while his injuries were being treated. But after everything was put in order, the patient nearly had a heart attack when he received the bill of nearly a million pesos! When they sifted the bill they discovered he was being charged for the services of several doctors, three shifts of personnel, all their PPEs, masks and gloves x 3 as well as the disinfection of each area he was kept in even though he was not a COVID carrier and not the only patient there. The poor guy had to call for help abroad because he could not get out of the hospital without someone covering for him.

Since then, we have all heard of horror stories of people landing in the hospital for COVID-19, ending up with hospital bills running from P3 million to P5 million. I have two friends who each had that sum total for their hospital stay; the first one stayed two weeks = P3M, the other one 1 month = P5M. They are now both dead, cremated and yes their families are broke and in debt! Recently my sister came down with breast cancer and several tests ran from P10,000 to P18,000 and beyond. Then she has to spend something like P180,000-plus at every session of Chemotherapy X7 and that does not even cover doctors’ bills. It’s all for the drugs and treatments.

So yes, Mr. Congressman, you are so right. Medicine in the Philippines does save patients but ruins lives. All these talk about universal health care and PhilHealth coverage is plain myth and bullshit. Can Congress really fix the problem or just use it as political fertilizer for re-election? Or should we pray that members of Congress collectively witness their friends or family become those millions of Filipinos who went into poverty because of one hospital bill?

*      *      *

E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com