The need for anti- COVID-19 vaccines is so great that the national government can not hope to meet it all by itself. President Duterte has thus approved a tripartite agreement among the national government, local government units, and private pharmaceutical firms for the acquisition of the millions of vaccine doses needed by our people.
The national government is now negotiating with vawccine companies Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Novavax, Johnson and Johnson, Sinovac, and Gamaleya, according to Carlito Galvez Jr. of the National Task Force against COVID-19.
The government plans to purchase 148 million doses from these manufacturers. That would be good for some 70 million, at two doses each person. The Philippines also expects to receive doses for 23 million Filipinos from COVAX, a global initiative to ensure rapid and equitable access to vaccines for all countries, regardless of income level.
Several Philippine LGUs, among them Manila, Quezon City, Baguio City, Ormoc City, and Candon City, have announced that they have already appropriated funds in the hundreds of millions of pesos and are now negotiating on their own with various vaccine manufacturers.
It must be pointed out, however, that of all the possible sources of vaccines named by Task Force COVID chief Galvez, only Pfizer-BioNTech of the US and Germany has received approval from our Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use of its vaccine
Last Wednesday, the British firm AstraZeneca filed an application with the FDA and the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization of its vaccine. Processing of applications takes three to four weeks, depending on completeness of submission, FDA Director General Eric Domingo said.
Another firm, Belgium’s Janssen Phamaceutica, which is under Johnson and Johnson, is due to start its clinical trials for its vaccine this month, Domingo said. It will take months before these final trials are completed.
Still another problem has to be faced. This is the need for adequate storage for the vaccines while waiting to be injected, especially in some remote provinces. The Pfizer vaccine, for example, needs to be kept at minus-70 degrees Celsius. Moderna needs only minus-20 degrees. There are yet no figures for the other vaccines.
All these are aspects of the big problem facing the country today – a problem of funding, availability, and storage. We are getting local governments to help in the funding, while some private pharmaceutical complanies have been found that can provide proper storage.
Right now, the biggest problem is availability of the vaccines. The richer nations like the US and UK have been able to purchase the vaccines they need. This is fortunate for them since they also have the greatest need for vaccines because of their still rising number of cases.
We are more fortunate in the Philippines because our cases are much lower. We must accept that the earliest we can get our first vaccine supply is about five months from now — around May. Most of our vaccines will be coming in the later part of 2021 and early in 2022.
This means we will have to continue relying on our health protocols to protect ourselves from COVID-19. Fortunately, our people have mostly accepted this call for “Mask. Hugas. Iwas.” It is right now our best shield against COVID-19 until we get our vaccines.
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