"Be proactive and scour the entire planet to get hold of the much-needed vaccines by any legal means possible."
The good news is that we will soon have our first shipment of about 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the WHO-sponsored COVAX program meant to provide developing countries equal access to the available stocks at this time.
The bad news is that this allocation is just a tiny portion of our desired stock of up to 140 million doses to vaccinate 70 percent of our population. We need to achieve this level in order to enhance public confidence to ease restrictions and open up the economy.
Unless the accredited manufacturers step up their production roll out and those in the final stages of accreditation are permitted to start production soon enough, it will probably take at least another year before we even get to have half of the number of doses we need.
A recent report by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of organizations calling for wider and fairer access to vaccines worldwide, indicated that most vaccines produced in the West have already been bought by rich countries. As of early December, the report said, all of Moderna’s vaccines and 96 percent of Pfizer BioNTech’s have been secured by them.
If true, that immediately puts vaccine czar Carlito Galvez’ glowing report about our own vaccination roll out into the garbage bin.
Gavi, the WHO-sponsored vaccine alliance, tried to inject a positive note in this otherwise dim scenario. But by the People’s Vaccine Alliance’s tally of Gavi’s supply data, as of the last week of January, the estimate was that in the first quarter of this year, the manufacturers will be able to ship between 110 million and 122 million doses from AstraZeneca and a mere 1.2 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech — for all 145 of the countries that have signed up with Gavi to obtain COVID-19 vaccines.
On the other hand, there are reports that the Chinese manufacturers, SinoPharm and SinoVac and Russia’s Gamaleya (Sputnik V manufacturer) have said that they have the capacity to produce up to one billion doses each this year. Currently, Sinovac has already signed deals to export more than 350 million doses of its vaccine to 12 countries this year (hopefully that includes our allocation). On the other hand, SinoPharm is providing around 194 million doses to 11 countries and Sputnik V, about 400 million doses to 17 countries. Our sources say that we have yet to firm up our contracts with SinoPharm and Gamaleya although there are noises, again from our officials, that we are on our way to concluding the agreements.
We better make sure that these agreements get finalized soonest before other countries snap our share like what happened earlier with our allocation of at least 10 million doses from Pfizer which was diverted to Singapore after somebody high up in the IATF hierarchy “dropped the ball.” For if truth be told, everybody – and I mean all countries including the rich ones – are angling very hard to have as many of the vaccines they can get their hands on. And with the latest reports that the Chinese and Russian vaccines are as effective and may even be easier to store and distribute than those from the Western manufacturers, then we will really have an even bigger challenge to hurdle moving on.
That should lift the cloud of prejudice against these vaccines from mostly patrons of the Western manufacturers who have time and again mounted challenges about the safety and efficacy of any and all competing products or procedures from what they usually derisively dismiss as “authoritarian states.” It is as if these countries’ scientists and engineers are numb, mindless robots tied up to the dictates of the state.
Anyway, we now have independent confirmation from third parties. Lancet, a leading Western medical journal, has confirmed interim results from late-stage trials that Sputnik V, the Russian vaccine, had an efficacy rate of 91.6 percent which validated the findings released in mid-December by the vaccine’s developers, the Gamaleya Center and the Russian Direct Investment Fund.
On the other hand, the regulatory bodies of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Serbia, Morocco, Hungary and Pakistan have approved China’s SinoPharm vaccine as of mid January. In fact, some 1.8 million people including a good number of our nationals have been vaccinated in the UAE. In the case of SinoVac, Indonesia, Bolivia, Turkey, Brazil and Chile have approved and begun to roll out the vaccine with no widespread medical challenges. Reports have it that the Sputnik V will also be distributed within the quarter in more than a dozen countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.
It stands to reason that these countries have properly vetted these vaccines based on the documents submitted by the manufacturers and the Chinese and Russian regulatory agencies, including the results of trials done by the manufacturers in accord with existing WHO and international standards. Most if not all of these countries also host the leading Western pharmaceutical companies and will definitely be looking intently at the roll out of their competitors’ vaccines just to ensure their own share of the market. So far, we have yet to hear of any negative reports as these countries roll out their vaccination programs.
Given these developments and our earnest desire to enhance immunity and public confidence as we transition our way out of the continuing lockdown, there is a need for government to be more pro-active in securing our share of this much-needed relief. Latest reports have it that after some initial hesitation due to their past prejudices, even leading European countries like Germany, Spain and France have started talking to the Chinese and the Russians for a share of their vaccines. These countries have finally realized that there are limits to their own vaccine manufacturing operations and it would be unforgivable if they do not consider, even just a bit, procuring from the competitors.
So there. Given our desire to fast track the rollout of our vaccination program and the growing scarcity of vaccines in the market, we should now consider letting all of the vaccines into the country – without any exception and with the proper certifications from the regulatory agencies of the countries where these are manufactured at the moment. More than that, we should consider encouraging the manufacturers to have any and all of these vaccines manufactured in the Philippines by providing incentives for locating here, on their own or through licensing arrangements with any of our established companies. That way, we will be in a better position to ensure our people’s health and our economic and social well being.
Again, we say: Be proactive and scour the entire planet to get hold of the much-needed vaccines by any legal means possible. The sooner, the better.