PH taps global vaccine pool of 2 billion doses
As officials bickered over the government’s supposed failure to get an initial shipment of COVID-19 vaccines in January, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday announced that the global Covax Facility had secured 2 billion doses for 190 countries, including the Philippines.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries that had signed up to the Covax Facility would be able to obtain the vaccines in the first half of 2021 to protect those at high risk of infection, like medical frontliners.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire confirmed that the Philippines was among the 85 countries which had already submitted their requests to Covax. She said, however, that the Department of Health could not yet disclose details of the country’s request.
Covax is the vaccine arm of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, which aims to speed up the development, production and “equitable access” to coronavirus tests, COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.
Among the manufacturers that have committed to supply vaccines to Covax are AstraZeneca (170 million doses), Johnson & Johnson (200 million doses) and the Serum Institute of India (200 million doses, plus possibly 900 million more).
‘End in sight’
Tedros said that even with this “milestone in global health,” people should remember that vaccines only serve to “complement, not replace, the existing effective tools for suppressing transmission and saving lives.”
He said “the end of the pandemic is in sight” but people should not let their guard down.
“We’re all responsible for taking the measures to keep ourselves and each other safe, including during this holiday season. With [this] news, the light at the end of the tunnel has grown a little bit brighter, but we’re not there yet. And we will only get there together,” he said.
Coleading the WHO in the facility are the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, or the Vaccine Alliance, which is a public-private global health partnership whose goal is to increase access to immunization by poor countries.
The Philippines joined Covax in July and was among the 92 countries that would be supported by the Advance Market Commitment (AMC) funding mechanism, which has so far raised $2 billion. AMC ensures that the ability to pay will not hinder low- and middle-income countries from accessing the vaccines.
WHO chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said a “fair allocation mechanism” was developed to make sure the vaccines are equitably distributed.
She told a virtual briefing on Saturday that vaccines would be distributed to countries “by tranches based on the percentage of their population.”
Swaminathan said there was an understanding that most countries would prioritize their health and other front-line workers, who account for about 2 percent to 3 percent of the population.
According to Gavi CEO Seth Berkley, deliveries are expected to start in the first quarter of 2021.
Berkley stressed that this would depend on the availability of the vaccine, the approvals for these vaccines and the readiness of countries to receive them.
With Covax securing the initial doses, Swaminathan said governments should now ensure that their communities are well-informed about how the vaccines would be rolled out, making sure the cold chain, supply chain and data systems were in place, and that regulatory approvals “happen rapidly.”
Galvez: We need portfolio
Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19 and the official in charge of the national vaccination program, said the government’s policy on sourcing vaccines was “not to put our eggs in one basket.”
“We need to have a portfolio. Meaning that we would get one or two vaccines from each country that is manufacturing these,” he told Saturday’s Laging Handa briefing.
Galvez said the government was also considering getting vaccines from China’s pharmaceutical companies Sinovac Biotech, CanSino and Sinopharm, and Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute, plus those from Covax.
Addressing allegations by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. that “someone dropped the ball” resulting in the country not getting 10 million doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer for delivery as early as next month, Galvez insisted that officials did not bungle efforts to acquire the US drug maker’s vaccine.
Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez had blamed Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, for not immediately signing the confidentiality disclosure agreement required prior to a firm contract with Pfizer, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who spoke with the envoy. Romualdez later said in a television interview that he should instead take the blame for not directly speaking to Duque about the urgency of the Pfizer deal.
Galvez said the government had some concerns about the Pfizer vaccine, particularly its “platform” as it uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, the first time that a vaccine using this technology had been approved. He also cited the subzero storage requirement for the Pfizer vaccine.
He said these became obstacles to “immediate negotiations” with the pharmaceutical company. But he said that after other countries approved the company’s vaccine, “We are happy with Pfizer because it has not left us.”
Galvez said he would also open talks with Moderna after Romualdez informed him that it was willing to supply its vaccine to the Philippines.
Locsin tweeted on Saturday that he had again spoken with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had promised in July to help the Philippines secure Pfizer’s vaccine.
“Great phone conversation with Mike Pompeo last night … I asked him to help [Romualdez] and I get back even a fraction of the 10 million doses of Pfizer after someone dropped the ball,” Locsin said. “He’ll give it his best try.”
Reacting to Locsin’s tweet, Duque said he was unaware of the foreign secretary’s “separate efforts to do what he does, like requests he makes [with] Sec. Pompeo, nor is Pfizer Phils. aware of any ongoing talks between Locsin and Pompeo.”
“The [President] is very emphatic that whatever talks must happen [with] regard to vaccine negotiations it is only Sec. Galvez who should do it and no one else,” Duque told the Inquirer in a text message.
It is unclear whether commitments made by Pompeo would be upheld by the incoming Biden administration.
Locsin also pressed his attack against those he held responsible for “dropping the ball” but did not identify them.
“I’ll fuck them,” Locsin tweeted. “My sweet suggestion is for them to move on; catch up; make up for mistakes; and do your job. No one’s asking you to admit fault because no [one] gives a flying fuck about you. Don’t mess with the best.” —WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND MARLON RAMOS
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