Govt behind curve as Covid war heats up

Govt behind curve as Covid war heats up

'The war has changed," an internal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) memo obtained by The Washington Post warned, saying that Delta infections will likely be more severe as the variant has become "so contagious it acts almost like a different novel virus", spreading more quickly than the common cold while causing more severe illness.

Here, we are still debating how the 1.5 million doses of Pfizer vaccines donated by the United States should be distributed even though we knew almost a month ago that the jabs were coming. Are we too slow and reactive in fighting the fast-changing virus?

A strategic change is long overdue. The problem is how to turn the top-down cumbersome bureaucracy into a more nimble command-and-control operation that can take into account multifaceted data and come up with effective, all-inclusive measures to curb the outbreak.

The controversy about the donated Pfizer doses is noteworthy for a few reasons.

The fact that there have been loud calls for full disclosure about who will receive the mRNA jabs shows the level of distrust that people have for the administration.

Suspicion about privileges and the possibility that some VIPs could squeeze themselves into the priority quotas, is everywhere. The Pfizer situation is but a culmination of the administration's past mistakes, murky policies and delayed responses to what people feel are emergency situations.

On the one hand, public uproars serve as policy influencers which could preempt any attempts to misuse public resources. On the other, however, they are distractions.

Why do people have to waste their time demanding that every single Pfizer recipient be listed and made public? Why do the authorities have to dwell on the issue when every day that passes, more medics, who could have been saved if the mRNA vaccines were administered sooner, could be infected?

The distribution of Pfizer vaccines should not have become an issue. The fact that it has reveals how the government's top-down and opaque Covid-19 management has broken down completely. Had the administration been proactive, prepared the Pfizer rollout beforehand and consulted with the stakeholders, nobody would have had to have wasted their time and energy squabbling.

The war has changed. It is likely that the next phase of the Covid-19 battle will become more severe. Most people have suffered long enough. They need more, not less, information. They need to feel included, not left out.

Another point of contention regarding the donated Pfizer jabs has revolved around the 700,000 doses earmarked for frontline medical workers. For some reason, the public health ministry only proposed criteria for the vaccines last week. The many conditions essentially mean the mRNA jabs will be used only as a booster for those who have received two doses of Sinovac.

Medical personnel who have received one dose of Sinovac or AstraZeneca, a mix of the two vaccines, other brands or no vaccines at all will not be entitled to the mRNA jabs.

Many medics including some leading doctors cried foul. They questioned why these conditions must be set which would screen out numerous medics when the purpose of the mRNA vaccines is to protect as many on the frontline as quickly as possible.

A few leading doctors also wondered on what basis the proposal was made. The latest studies by the University of Oxford and the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency show that mixing AstraZeneca with Pfizer gives a higher immune response.

If that is the case, why must the ministry bar medics who have received one or two doses of AstraZeneca from getting the Pfizer booster?

That the proposal was changed to allow more medical personnel to receive the donated Pfizer shots following an uproar simply confirmed how the country has been wasting precious time and resources that could have been used to fight Covid-19 in order to keep tabs on the administration that does not have the public's trust.

The point is the current Covid-19 team is behind the curve. It's not just the Pfizer distribution, but the bottlenecks regarding test kits, drugs and all kinds of Covid-19 care that are pushing the public health system closer to collapse.

The Pfizer vaccines arrived on Friday. Now is not the time for debate. Now should be the time to inoculate as many medics as quickly as possible as the battle is set to intensify.

Every day that passes, more than 100 people die. Every minute that passes, another medic could contract the virus as he or she comes into contact with Covid-19 patients while caring for them.

The war has changed. A sense of urgency is desperately needed in the government's Covid-19 task force. The business-as-usual way does not work.

Everything has to change. Where to start?

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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