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Vaccine is a Welcome Game-Changer

The announcement last week by two US pharmaceutical companies that their vaccine candidates are more than 90-percent effective against Covid-19 has given us hope the pandemic will be contained in the coming months. The positive report bolsters the nation’s confidence to fully recharge the economy soon.

 

Global markets welcomed the news, as the development is certain to revive consumer confidence amid the lingering threat of the virus. This should not lull us into complacency, however, until we get our hands on the vaccines for the whole population. We still need to observe social distancing through the Christmas season and overcome the gargantuan logistical challenge of procuring and distributing the vaccines once they are available.

 

To achieve herd immunity, we may need to have 60 percent to 80 percent of the population vaccinated, according to public health experts. While this might be possible next year, the recent announcement by Pfizer and Moderna about the success of their clinical trials already lifted consumer sentiments across the world.

 

US biotech firm Moderna said its vaccine-candidate was found to be 94.5-percent effective in a trial involving more than 30,000 participants. The company plans to have 20 million doses available in the US in December 2020, initially targeting health-care workers and vulnerable populations.

 

Pfizer and partner BioNTech announced their two-dose coronavirus vaccine was 95-percent effective and had no serious side effects among older adults based on clinical trials administered on about 44,000 volunteers. The vaccine’s efficacy was found consistent across age, race and ethnicity.

 

Pfizer said once approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, it could produce 50 million doses this year and 1.3 billion by 2021.

 

We hope the Philippines will be among the first countries to receive the US vaccines based on the early negotiations made by our government with American officials. We should prepare for the handling and distribution of the new class of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, which require colder storage.

 

Aside from the US vaccines, other candidates show promising results. The Russian developers of the Sputnik V vaccine said it was also found to be 92-percent effective in preventing Covid-19. The Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow and the Russian Direct Investment Fund made the conclusion based on an interim analysis covering some 16,000 volunteers.

 

Other companies that reported impressive progress were Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax.

 

The Philippine government has assured the public will get allocation from Pfizer and Moderna. “We have firm commitments from the United States that we will have access to Covid vaccines that may be developed in the United States,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque was quoted as saying. Secretary Roque made the assurance based on the information relayed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

 

China, according to Mr. Roque, made the same commitment to supply future Covid-19 vaccines to the Philippines. Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the chief implementer of the National Policy Against Covid-19 who was also designated as vaccine czar by President Duterte, said the Philippines was actually looking at 17 countries as possible sources of vaccines.

 

The government plans to acquire 30 million to 50 million doses of vaccines by 2021 with priority on medical and other health-care frontliners, vulnerable sectors, marginalized individuals and uniformed personnel, and other servicemen.

 

This early, the Asian Development Bank is offering technical assistance for vaccine distribution. The Manila-based multilateral lender committed to provide $20.3 million in technical assistance to help developing members gain access to the vaccines and establish systems to enable equitable and efficient vaccine distribution.

 

We may also need to form partnerships with our neighbors for efficient vaccine distribution. The pandemic is a global problem that requires international cooperation, especially in the areas of manufacturing, shipping and last-mile delivery. Because of the extreme cold temperature required in storage, it may be faster and more efficient to produce vaccines in regional hubs, instead of just one global site. Pfizer, for example, has a facility in the Philippines.

 

Now that Covid-19 vaccines are a reality, instead of just a dream, we may consider further relaxing the quarantine restrictions that have shackled the growth of our economy in the past two quarters. We should allow businesses to resume full operations, with the necessary health protocols still in place, of course.

 

Moody’s Analytics in a recent report noted the economic recovery in the Asia-Pacific region would not be fully complete until international travel and tourism flourish again and until an extended rebound of the global economy expands the range of global trade to include more consumer goods such as automobiles, and commodities such as crude oil and petrochemicals.

 

I particularly welcome the recent signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, the world’s largest free trade deal, which is expected to lift our exports and boost our recovery. Under the deal, parties will have access to a huge market and major sources of raw materials for production.

 

RCEP, which includes 10 Southeast Asian economies along with China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia, is expected to account for 27.8 percent of the world’s trade valued at $10.5 trillion. Members of the RCEP accounted for 60.6 percent of total Philippine merchandise trade and 11.4 percent of inward foreign direct investments in 2019.

 

The mega trade deal is something we can look forward to in the coming years as we navigate the new environment created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Amid the success of Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials, I am more optimistic than I was six months ago because there is now solid evidence that help is on the way.