Here come the vaccines


    ‘Where then are the billions that this government has raised to fund the country’s vaccination program? In fact, where the heck is that program?’

    THE vaccines have started to arrive.

    To much fanfare, vaccines from China and Europe began arriving last week, with none other than President Duterte heading the welcoming committee. First to arrive last February 28 were vaccines from China, donated by the Chinese government, and immediately dispatched to medical frontliners in Metro Manila and key cities nationwide. If I am not mistaken there were about 600,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine. Since each recipient gets two doses, this was good enough for 300,000 Filipinos.

    Sinovac received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last February 22.

    Next to arrive last March 4 were AstraZeneca vaccines from Europe on board a KLM plane.

    Amounting to a little less than 500,000 doses, good for about 240,000 people, these were again received by the President and immediately dispatched to frontliners in hospitals.

    Three days after the AstraZeneca arrival, it was announced that Moderna and the Philippine government had come to an agreement for the delivery of 13 million doses – good for 6.5 million Filipinos. Moderna was also in discussion with the private sector in the Philippines for an additional 7 million doses – good for another 3.5 million Filipinos.

    Add 300,000 to 240,000 to 6.5 million to 3.5 million and you get a little over 10 million Filipinos who will benefit from the shots. Good but not good enough.

    Now I am told that Covaxin, an Indian-made vaccine, would be available as early as April if it receives its own EUA from the FDA. Rumor has it that Covaxin will cost between P800 to P1,000 a shot, not unlike the other vaccines, but may have supply chain advantages because India is not too far away and there is a major vaccine operation in that country that can churn out hundreds and hundreds of thousands of doses daily.

    So while Filipinos are more familiar with the names Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, all of which seem to be encountering supply issues, Covaxin of India’s Bharat Biotech is sure to elicit some race-related jokes but maybe the missing link in providing sufficient supply to cover the 70% requirement for vaccinating a population in order to achieve herd immunity.

    I can hear it now: you either get shot with Sinovac and end up speaking Mandarin, or get two doses of Covaxin and end up with a stiff neck from all your neck turning and twisting.

    Jokes aside, there are two big hurdles for the Philippines that may keep it from vaccinating enough of its citizens within this year in order to achieve herd immunity. The most serious is supply, with developed countries being accused of “vaccine imperialism” in their effort to first secure enough supplies for their citizens before allowing the export of the oversupply.

    The second is the public distrust of vaccines as evidenced in survey after survey showing a significant percentage of the population expressing reluctance, if not outright refusal, to get vaccinated. Blame that on the Dengvaxia brouhaha, the distrust of many things Chinese, and media reports (unfounded or valid) about problems being encountered with side effects from vaccines whose lead time for development has admittedly been compressed quite significantly.

    Yesterday I saw a message from the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industries, offering those interested in two jabs of the Sinovac vaccine at an “adjusted” price of P2,000 (plus admin fee, it says in small text). The jabs are to be administered at three hospitals: Manila Doctors, Chinese Genera and Metropolitan. I found the message interesting because it meant there are more supplies in town than what the government is rolling out for free to its identified frontliners. Which in turn seems to imply that while the government is having issues with supply, the private sector isn’t.

    There are vaccines if you can pay for it, but short supply of those that are free?

    Where then are the billions that this government has raised to fund the country’s vaccination program? In fact, where the heck is that program? Can someone tell us just exactly when we target to have 70% of our people vaccinated, and for free?

    Here come the vaccines – so bring out your wallets. If you want the free ones you may have to wait for and only get it “in three to six months.”

    And you and I know what “in three to six months” has really meant these last few years!


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