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Poor nations grapple with vaccine access

Hailed this week as a pandemic game-changer, the new COVID-19 vaccine offered countries that had pre-ordered doses a potential escape from a cycle of lockdowns and new waves of sickness and death.

But while richer nations plan their vaccination programs through the end of 2021, experts warn that poorer and developing countries face hurdles that could deny billions the first proven protection against the coronavirus.

Vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech plan to roll out the first doses within weeks, once they receive emergency use permissions from drug agencies. They expect to have 1.3 billion doses ready next year.

The results of phase 3 clinical trials showed their mRNA vaccine was 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms and did not produce adverse side effects among thousands of volunteers.

At the cost of $40 per treatment, which consists of two separate shots, richer nations have rushed to order tens of millions of doses. But it is less clear what poorer nations can expect.

Anticipating the outsize demand for any approved vaccine, the World Health Organization formed the COVAX facility in April to ensure equitable distribution. COVAX brought together governments, scientists, civil society and the private sector -- though Pfizer is not currently part of the facility.

Duterte eyes ‘best bargain’

President Rodrigo Duterte assured the public that the government will get the “best bargain” for the country’s supply of coronavirus vaccines once they are available in the market.

In his speech Tuesday night, Duterte said he trusts vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. to decide on the vaccine selection, acquisition, and distribution amid hopes the life-saving drug may be available next month or in January 2021.

The President said that in times of emergency, the bidding process may be skipped for the vaccine acquisition by the issuance of an executive order.

Galvez is coordinating with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III to arrange the country’s vaccine procurement.

Emergency use authorization eyed

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to issue an executive order for a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization (EUA) on the COVID-19 vaccine.

Duque, in a briefing with Duterte, said the issuance of the EO will cut processing time from six months to 21 days.

“We are respectfully requesting that you consider the issuance of the executive order for the FDA to grant an emergency use of authorization for the various vaccines that will enter the country and for which applications are to be filed,” Duque said.

Duque said the EUA is a facilitated approval in the context of public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moderna not out of the picture

The Philippines can still purchase COVID-19 vaccines from American biotechnology company Moderna even if the US manufacturer does not conduct clinical trials in the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Wednesday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire made the announcement two days after Moderna announced that its COVID-19 vaccine is at least 94 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 after Phase 3 of clinical trials.

The government has allotted a P2.5 billion budget for COVID-19 vaccine procurement under the proposed 2021 national budget.

Another P10 billion for COVID-19 vaccine procurement has been provided under the Bayanihan 2 law.

Budget covers storage, distribution

The Department of Health (DOH) on Wednesday said its proposed budget for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines included the cost of storage and distribution.

This after Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said he wanted a P150 billion allocation for the procurement and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines next year, noting that distribution costs much more than the price of the vaccines.

However, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, in a virtual press briefing, said this has already been considered as the country continues to negotiate with various vaccine developers.

“During evaluation, we look at how much the vaccine is and we also look at the logistical requirements, and what are the challenges of our health system if we procure this vaccine,” Vergeire said. With AFP

Topics: COVID-19 vaccine , COVAX , Rodrigo Duterte , Francisco Duque III
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