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Hope for a Successful Vaccine

President Duterte’s assurance during his fifth State-of-the-Nation Address (Sona) on July 27 that we will have access to an approved vaccine from China to address the Covid-19 pandemic is a welcome development. That should assuage our concerns amid the growing number of cases in the country.

 

While an approved and effective vaccine may still take several weeks or months to reach the commercial stage, I believe it will be available to the Filipino people this year, thanks to the government’s discussions with other countries that are developing candidate doses.

 

President Durterte’s declaration that the vaccine is around the corner is uplifting. I share his optimism because it highlights the coordinated global efforts to find a solution to the pandemic that has already infected some 80 million people across the world.

 

President Duterte is showing his real concern for the Filipino people, who are all struggling because of the effects of lockdown measures precipitated by Covid-19. His immediate response that the government will spend P20 billion to procure an initial batch of 40 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine for the first 20 million beneficiaries, including the poorest of the poor, the military and the police, is statesmanly.

 

“This will be for free. The first beneficiaries will be the poorest of the poor. The second will be my military and my police—the backbone of my administration,” says President Duterte.

 

Experts are racing to make available a safe and effective vaccine soon to prevent further transmission of the virus and deaths from complications. We need a vaccine on our path to the new normal to restore the vigor of the Philippine economy.

 

I believe we will surpass all the challenges posed by the health crisis, as the president stated in his Sona. The Philippines’s fiscal position is strong given its solid macroeconomic fundamentals and a robust banking system. Let us help ensure that the economy will remain in this position of strength, by allowing more businesses to reopen while adhering to the strict health and safety protocols required by the government.

 

We should also carefully manage our expectations and plan our recovery based on the timeline of vaccine availability this year or early next year. President Duterte, knowing fully well that the first effective vaccine may come out of China, where the respiratory disease originated last year, asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to give the Philippines priority access to the vaccine.

 

China responded favorably to our request. “The Philippines is a friendly close neighbor, and we will give priority to its needs once we succeed in developing a vaccine,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin was quoted as saying in a formal briefing a day following President Duterte’s Sona.

 

Several Chinese companies and agencies are now on the clinical trials of candidate vaccines, including those of Chinese Academy of Science-Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health, Sinopharm/Wuhan Institute and Beijing Biologicals Institute and Sinovac Biotech Ltd. As the virus first spread in China, its laboratories have the advantage in research and clinical trials.

 

Meanwhile, the Chinese military approved a vaccine developed by Chinese firm CanSino Biologics as a “especially needed drug” for soldiers, after the clinical trials demonstrated the vaccine produced a strong immune response.

 

The World Health Organization has reported that of the more than 140 candidate vaccines it is tracking, 25 of them are now in clinical evaluation. These include six candidates in Phase 3 clinical trial, including those of University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Wuhan Institute of Biologial Products / Sinopharm, Beijing Institute of Biological Products / Sinopharm, Moderna / NIAID and BioNTech / Fosun Pharma / Pfizer.

 

Phase 3 trials involve large-scale testing to check the efficacy of the vaccines, after which the vaccines would need regulatory approval from governments for commercial use. Phase 3 trials also began for the Moderna/NIAID candidate vaccine in the US, involving 30,000 volunteers. The trial aims to determine if the vaccine can prevent deaths caused by the virus. If the vaccine could protect more than half of the volunteers from infection, it could be declared effective.

 

Once a vaccine is declared effective, individual governments, including the Philippines, will have to decide if they will approve its commercial use based on the review of trial results. This process usually takes several years, but there is a consensus the approval will be much swifter this time given the situation at hand. CNN reported that Russia actually is on the verge of approving its own coronavirus vaccine developed by Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute, but the US is suspicious of claims that it could be made available as early as August.

 

While the vaccine is not yet commercially available, we hope the government will allocate a budget to procure millions of doses of such vaccine for the protection of our people and in the process mitigate the effects of this pandemic.

 

In the meantime, let us listen to the WHO and local health authorities in practicing proper hygiene, physical distancing and wearing of face mask outdoors to prevent the further spread of the disease. The WHO said the basic measures needed to suppress transmission and save lives remain the same: find, isolate, test and care for cases, and trace and quarantine their contacts.

 

“Keep your distance from others, wash your hands, avoid crowded and enclosed areas, and wear a mask where recommended. Where these measures are followed, cases go down. Where they’re not, cases go up,” the WHO said.