The head of the World Health Organization remains hopeful that a vaccine to protect the public against the highly-infectious coronavirus may be ready before the end of 2020.
“There is hope that by the end of this year, we may have a vaccine. There is hope,” Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in final remarks to the WHO’s Executive Board on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila).
Ready, however, does not necessarily mean the vaccine will be available immediately in the Philippines. The country’s regulatory agency sees that the vaccine may be ready only by April 2021 — if everything goes as planned.
Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo has said that this timeline is the “best case scenario” if clinical trials, including the WHO Solidarity Trial, will be completed in the shortest time possible.
Domingo added that this is only possible if the manufacturers pass all the requirements and submit proper documents to Philippine agencies.
For Secretary Fortunato dela Peña of the Department of Science and Technology, the “very early forecast” is the second quarter of 2021.
Dr. Socorro Escalante, COVID-19 incident manager of the WHO Western Pacific region, mentioned the same timeline as the DOST Chief, but said the COVID-19 vaccine could come in as late as the end of 2021.
Funds set aside for 20m poorest
Malacañang said Wednesday it has set aside funds to buy a vaccine against COVID-19 for the 20 million poorest Filipinos if it becomes ready by yearend, as the World Health Organization hopes.
“We have set aside the budget for COVID-19 vaccine. We know the mechanism,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque told government-run PTV.
“We will buy 2 dosages each for our 20 million poorest compatriots. The poor will come first,” he added.
The Philippine International Trading Corp will buy the vaccine, which will be financed by the LandBank and the Development Bank of the Philippines, Roque said.
The government has allotted an initial budget of P2.4 billion for COVID-19 vaccines, the Department of Health said earlier.
WHO Director-General Ghebreyesus on Tuesday called for solidarity and political commitment by all leaders to ensure equal distribution of vaccines when they become available.
Nine experimental vaccines are in the pipeline of the WHO’s COVAX global vaccine facility that aims to distribute 2 billion doses by the end of 2021.
PH ready for vaccine trials
The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday assured the public the country can immediately start COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials as soon as the WHO initiates the so-called Solidarity Trial.
“We are finalizing our preparatory activities already. So that when WHO signals that we start we are already ready for these trials,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing.
She said the study proponent from the University of the Philippines’ Philippine General Hospital already submitted a clinical trial protocol, which has already been approved.
“Clinical trial sites in the Philippines have also been identified, together with the WHO. This was studied. There are criteria set to determine which sites will be included in the clinical trial process,” Vergeire said.
More flexible ‘NAP 3’ plan: Galvez
The government will intensify the fight against COVID-19 through proactive case surveillance as well as the Oplan Kalinga’s isolation strategy under the third phase of the National Action Plan (NAP Phase 3).
During a Laging Handa public briefing on Tuesday, National Policy against Covid-19 chief implementer, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., said the implementation of NAP Phase 3 will focus on preventing the spike of Covid-19 cases while increasing recovery rate and lowering the mortality rate posed by the disease.
“Here in NAP Phase 3, it is important that we continue the success that we achieved in the last six months,” Galvez, also the presidential peace adviser, said.
The government will also impose stricter health standards within workplaces and business establishments, Galvez said.
“ We will also strengthen the healthcare system with the help of several interventions under the PDITR [Prevention-Detection-Isolation-Treatment-Reintegration] strategy,” Galvez said.
‘Undermined by simplification, drama—expert’
Efforts to curb COVID-19 in the Philippines are undermined by President Rodrigo Duterte’s simplification and dramatization of the crisis, an expert said Wednesday.
Discussing his study on Duterte’s pandemic response, Dr. Gideon Lasco, senior lecturer at the University of the Philippines Diliman’s department of anthropology, in an interview on ANC, said that Duterte employed a political style called medical populism often used in health emergencies.
“Leaders tend to dramatize their responses to the pandemic to show they are in command, to show they are doing something about it,” Lasco said on ANC’s “Matters of Fact.”
To illustrate his point, Lasco said the septuagenarian president offered “common sense” solutions or quick fixes to a complex problem.