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Opinion

From Russia with vaccine

The image above sums up the process of how a vaccine is developed. Now that we’re living in a global pandemic, a vaccine is seen as something that will bring an end to lockdowns, economic downturns, and a return to normalcy. Hence the next image:

Scientists and vaccine makers around the world are racing to make one that is safe and effective against SARS-CoV-2 with the World Health Organization leading the global effort at an unprecedented pace. At the moment, there are more than 165 vaccines being developed of which 31 are in various stages of human trials.

The latest to grab international headlines is dubbed Sputnik-V which was announced by no less than Russian President Vladimir Putin on August 11 as ‘ready for public use.’ Much like how the first Sputnik satellite drew global attention back in 1957, Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine brought much shock and awe the world over.

The shock as scientists and medical experts has condemned Russia’s approval of a COVID-19 vaccine that has skipped Stage 3 phase of clinical trials. Apart from the risks of side effects that could be harmful, a vaccine that turns out to be ineffective could undermine immunization efforts the world over and not just against the coronavirus. This would even play into the hands of anti-vaxxers to further their agenda. Overall, it threatens global health atop of the natural threat that is COVID-19 which has already killed millions, destroyed livelihoods, and caused worldwide suffering.

It didn’t help that President Durterte was quick to announce that Russia would be supplying the vaccine to the Philippines, something that he has been desperately clinging on to as his administration has struggled and miserably failed to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Never mind that even Russian health experts have voiced their opposition to fast-tracking Sputnik-V, Duterte even volunteered to be the first Filipino to get injected.

Days after his late-night address, his spokesperson confirmed that indeed the Philippines would be participating in the Phase III trials for the Russian vaccine. Ironic since the administration has used another controversial vaccine – Dengvaxia, to score political points against the opposition.

If this is not madness, I don’t know what else is.

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Daily dose

Myth: Filipinos lack discipline

Three data sets utterly destroy the government’s mantra that Filipinos lack discipline and that this is the reason why COVID-19 cases – despite having the longest lock down in the world, continue to increase by the thousands each day.

A survey by the Institute of Global Health Innovation of the Imperial College London in partnership with YouGov came up with the following figures:

  • 91% wore masks when they were outside
  • 83% washed hands w/ soap & water
  • 77% avoided crowded areas
  • 61% avoided going out in general
  • 70% avoided touching objects in public

Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Report (pdf) based on “aggregated, anonymized sets of data from users who have turned on the location history setting” for their Google Account paints a similar picture covering the period of June 2 to July 14:

  • 46% decline in retail & recreation areas, including restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, theme parks, museums, libraries and movie theaters
  • 20% decline in places like grocery markets, food warehouses, farmers markets, specialty food shops, drug stores and pharmacies
  • 25% decline in places like national parks, public beaches, marinas, dog parks, plazas, and public gardens.
  • 56% decline in places like public transport hubs such as subways, bus, and train stations.
  • 44% decline for places of work
  • 23% increase for places of residence. In other words, Filipinos stayed at home.

Marlen V. Ronquillo in his The Manila Times column talks about how a recent survey by the Asian Development Bank ‘shatter the myth that Filipinos are pasaway‘:

63.2% decrease in mobility – Filipinos stayed at home even in the congested areas where at least 10 people are crammed inside a small shanty.

A couple of days ago, Vince Dizon, the so-called ‘testing czar’ regurgitated the myth that ‘discipline’ is the key to beating COVID-19. He casually dismissed testing, contact tracing, strengthening the health care system and using available technology as essential tools against the coronavirus. It is bad enough that up until now, public health experts have taken a back seat in the government’s response against COVID-19, it’s infuriating to hear such ridiculous notions from those who are put in such a position.

I have said it before and will say it again, from the experience of other countries, COVID-19 can be beaten. The struggle only becomes more difficult – at the expense of human lives, when the government itself becomes another enemy in this pandemic.

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Daily dose

Mozart, spaghetti, eclipses & zoonosis

You may be able to spot a ‘ring of fire’ eclipse this weekend link

On June 21st, at 3:45 UTC, there would be an annular solar eclipse in which the moon only partially covers the sun creating a flaming silhouette. This rare event happens once every one or two years when the moon comes in between the Earth and the sun in its farthest point in its orbit. It will be visible in northern India, southeastern Europe to northern Australia in varying degrees. Don’t forget to use the proper equipment in viewing the eclipse as looking directly at the sun could cause permanent eye damage. And no, sunglasses, x-ray films, polaroid filters, or color films won’t give you protection.

The tangled history of spaghetti bolognese link

The spaghetti that we know – pasta noodles with red sauce often referred to as spaghetti bolognese has nothing to do with the Italian town of Bologna. Its origins can be traced to when Napoleon invaded Italy in 1796 and the Italians’ embracing French cooking. American soldiers and Italian immigrants brought it to the United States at the end of World War II. The growth and global expansion of American fast-food chains then exported it to the rest of the world.

Mozart may reduce seizure frequency in people with epilepsy link

A study suggests that listening to Mozart reduces the frequency of seizures in people with epilepsy. It doesn’t say exactly what in Mozart’s music gives this benefit. Maybe music from other classical masters like Beethoven, Bach or Vivaldi would give the same positive effect. From time to time, I put on Spring from Four Seasons just to lighten up the mood and get the creative juices flowing.

“Cat” by strogoscope is licensed under CC BY 2.0
People probably caught coronavirus from minks. That’s a wake-up call to study infections in animals, researchers say. link

The consensus among experts is that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 came from bats and then jumped to humans in what is called zoonosis. Now there’s a growing body of research that suggests the sources of other pathogens may be closer to home as our domesticated animals in farms and including our pets are potential reservoirs.

Even during the SARS outbreak in 2003, it has been proven that cats and raccoons played a role in the spread of the virus in Hong Kong. Back in April, minks in Dutch fur farms got sick from SARS-CoV-2 and later passed it on to humans. Aside from pet cats and dogs, lions and tigers in zoos have also caught COVID-19. So what can be done with the certainty that there would be another outbreak? Better and widened surveillance that includes animals both domestic and wild.

What we can learn from New Zealand’s successful fight against COVID-19 link

The exact opposite of what the Duterte administration did and is doing. New Zealand may have had the advantage of a smaller population and geographic isolation, however the following steps proved more decisive:

  • The early shutdown of its borders
  • Early ramping up of diagnostic testing
  • A meticulous contact tracing system

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did well on risk communication, explaining clearly and frequently what was happening and why. This made people feel that they were part of a communal effort to care for each other. She promoted solidarity. – Gavin Yamey, director of the Duke Center for Policy Impact in Global Health

In contrast, the Duterte government did the opposite:

Relented on imposing travel restrictions even saying that it didn’t want to offend China

Communication was all over the place: from having different officials saying one thing in the morning only to have another official contradict it later in the day.

They even had the bright idea to classify cases as “fresh” and “old” in their official reporting which only made things confusing. It didn’t hide the fact that more people are getting COVID-19 despite imposing the longest lockdown in the world, billions spent, and the available capabilities of local health experts and scientists.

Worse, Duterte’s late-night appearances on TV were laced with his signature profanities and incoherent statements were clear only one thing: threatening to jail or kill critics and naysayers.

We’re in the third month of the outbreak in the Philippines and it seems that this terrible situation will drag on for longer.

Categories
Quotes

Duterte’s Style

How would I describe Duterte’s style of governance or politics? To date I still have no clear answer my self, so I will borrow Prof Randy David’s answer:

The Duterte style appears to be a blend of at least two things. The first is a unique way of engaging audiences that combines tough talk with crass humor, and self-righteous moralizing with an oversimplified view of the world. And, the second is an unfaltering will to act that eschews reasoned discussion of any issue.

This style seems to serve him well regardless of the issue. It could be the jailing of Sen. Leila de Lima, the cancellation of the Inquirer owners’ contract of lease on a government-owned property, the cancellation of the “onerous” contracts of the water companies, the renewal of the franchise of the ABS-CBN broadcasting network, the withdrawal of the country’s membership in the International Criminal Court, the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, or the so-called pivot to China and the concomitant refusal to assert the favorable arbitral tribunal ruling on the West Philippine Sea. Or, to take a more recent instance, the issue could be the fairness and wisdom of imposing a travel ban to and from China in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Whatever reasons he gives for his decisions, they rarely rise above his personal feelings or grudges. He shows no patience for nuanced arguments or for the need for careful study by experts. He delights in being able to interrupt all debate by the mere issuance of a decision, leaving his spokespersons and members of his Cabinet to either soften the blow or to find a legal and nonpersonal justification for the decision.

Randy David – Activating the Rule of Law, Philippine Daily Inquirer

Could it be said that Duterte is the epitome of or personification of the anti-intellectualism aka “smart-shaming” that has become pervasive in our national consciousness? Or he has simply became the symbol and expression of our collective frustration from the failure of our democratic setup and past governments post-Marcos to give us a better life.