FAIR COMMENT | Alito Malinao
By next month, it will be one year since the coronavirus first hit the Chinese province of Wuhan and from there it spread throughout the world. Because it started in late 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) named the virus Covid-19. Since it has affected almost all countries in the world, WHO has called the plague a pandemic.
Led by those in the United States, giant pharmaceutical companies have vied with each other to produce an anti-Covid vaccine. Everybody has agreed that without the vaccine, life would not return to normal.
Although we have heard encouraging results from the trials of the vaccine that is safe and effective, there is still no definitive timeline as to when this will be available in massive quantities to people of the world.
We have also read about several breakthroughs that could eventually result in eventually containing the plague.
Recently, Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech SE announced that it can roll out up to 50 million doses of their Covid-19 vaccine this year, enough to protect 25 million people and then produce 1.3 billion doses in 2021. Another U.S. vaccine with a promising result is manufactured by Moderna.
Shortly after Pfizer’s announcement, Russia also said that its Sputnik V vaccine has also been found 90 percent effective based on the data collated from inoculations made on Russian citizens. China has also announced that its Sinovac has been found effective and Chinese pharmaceutical firms are readying to manufacture the vaccine for local and word-wide distribution.
Even if trials of how effective and safe are the vaccines produced abroad, they still have to be tested locally before they will be used for our people.
According to Science Secretary Fortunato dela Pena the Philippine government is unlikely to grant emergency approval to Covid-19 vaccines whose clinical trials were done abroad. He said that it is our own Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would decide on whether an emergency approval of any anti-Covid vaccine can be granted.
According to Secretary Carlito Galvez, who was earlier appointed by President Duterte as “vaccine czar,” based on the government’s seven-point immunization plan, the evaluation and acquisition of the potential vaccine should be completed by year end. In other words, there will be no distribution of the vaccine until the first quarter of the next year.
Another hurdle would be the total cost in the procurement of the vaccine. Part of the cost of the vaccine has been provided in the 2021 national budget but some believe that it may not be sufficient. The World Bank has already signified its readiness to extend a loan to the Philippines for the purchase of the vaccine. How much would be the total cost had not yet been computed.
Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez, who had asked the U.S. State Department for help in the acquisition of the Pfizer vaccine, said that one shot of Pfizer vaccine may cost $5 or roughly P250. If two shots are required the cost would be $10 or P500. Senator Ralph Recto, also citing Pfizer estimates, said two doses of its vaccine would cost $40 or roughly P2,000.
But President Duterte had earlier said that he would prefer to buy the vaccine either from China or Russia which could be cheaper and could be acquired on credit.