Are we being left behind in vaccine supply?


FAIR COMMENT | Alito Malinao

The first batch of anti-Covid-19 vaccine ordered from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd arrived in Indonesia last week making Indonesia the first country in Southeast Asia to roll out its aggressive response to the pandemic.

According to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the first shipment of 1.2 million doses of the vaccine will be followed by another 1.8 million doses in early January. This will be followed by a shipment of raw material for 45 million doses, which Indonesia’s state pharmaceutical firm PT Bio Farma will process locally.

Of course, we know that Indonesia has the highest number of cases in Southeast Asia followed by the Philippines.

But the big question is why has Indonesia gotten its Sinovac vaccine ahead of the Philippines?

After its pivot to China early on in his administration, President Duterte has announced that Beijing is now the Philippines’ main ally in the region, even describing China President Xi Jinping as his “best friend.” If that were so, why was Jakarta, and not Manila, the first recipient of the Sinovac vaccine?
All we hear from Duterte officials is that China has assured us of enough supply of the vaccine. But we haven’t been given a specific timeline as to when the vaccine from China will arrive.

If we don’t exert more efforts, we might end up snoozing in the noodle house (patulog-tulog sa pancitan) while other countries are now on its way to vaccinate its people.

While it is true that last November 27 a tripartite agreement was signed by the government, the private sector and AstraZeneca for the supply of 2.6 doses of AstraZeneca to the country, the exact schedule of the delivery of the vaccine developed in the United Kingdom has not been fixed.

Recently AstraZeneca withdrew its application for a clinical trial in the Philippines without citing any reason. However, Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo said that even without the clinical trial, AstraZeneca could still be imported to the country.

What is strange is that while AstraZeneca is produced in the UK, the British government has purchased millions of doses of the vaccine produced by Pfizer/BioNtech for massive distribution among its residents which has already started. Is this an indication that British authorities have little faith in the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca? Or is AstraZeneca not yet ready to produce its vaccine in big volume?

Greedy rich countries
What compounds our problem, along with other poor countries in the world, is that rich countries are now cornering large volumes of anti-Covid vaccines that are being developed by large pharmaceutical companies.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of health and humanitarian organizations, has said that the world’s richest nations have “hoarded” vaccines and warn that unless the pharmaceutical industry and governments take action, only 10 percent of people living in nearly 70 poor nations will be vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of 2021.

The coalition said an analysis of data shows that while dozens of nations wait for vials of vaccines, the world’s richest countries have already secured enough doses to inoculate their populations nearly three times over.

The data collected shows that rich nations representing just 14 percent of the world’s population have secured 53 percent of all most promising vaccines, leaving 67 low- to lower middle-income countries to struggle with infections.

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