Vaccination program, not just vaccine, will save lives – WHO
MANILA, Philippines — Though manufacturers are starting to release promising results of their candidate vaccines against the new coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday stressed that it is not just the vaccine but the vaccination program as well that every country will put in place which will protect and save hundreds of thousands of lives.
Kate O’Brien, the WHO’s director for immunization, vaccines and biologicals, pointed out that despite the availability to the public of various life-saving and effective vaccines against a host of contagious diseases such as measles, outbreaks continue to happen.
“Getting to vaccine efficacy is like building base camp at Everest but the climb to the peak is really about delivering the vaccines and this cannot be overemphasized—that the people who need to receive these vaccines are the ones who really are the focus now as we start to see that we have vaccines that may in fact really have very strong efficacy,” O’Brien said at a briefing at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva.
Pfizer, Moderna vaccines
“There’s an enormous amount of work to do and resources that will be needed to actually deliver the vaccines to everybody who needs these vaccines should they in fact come forward, as some of the press releases indicate they should,” she added.
Over the last few days, US drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna, which are at the forefront of developing a COVID-19 vaccine, released the preliminary results of their clinical trials showing their vaccines are at least 90-percent effective against the severe respiratory disease.
Pfizer’s vaccine, however, poses a challenge to low-income countries such as the Philippines since it has to be stored in a freezer with a temperature of -70 degrees Celsius or lower. Moderna’s vaccine, on the other hand, can be kept at a standard refrigerator temperature of between 2 and 8 C.
Earlier, the Department of Health (DOH) admitted that storing Pfizer’s vaccine would prove to be a challenge since public health facilities aren’t equipped with ultralow freezers. COVID-19 national task force chief Carlito Galvez Jr., however, is in talks with the private sector for possible partnerships.
This is why in selecting the vaccine that will be procured by the government, the DOH said it was not only looking at the characteristics of the vaccine but also the logistical challenges it may present.
“Our experts, together with us in the government, look at the trade-offs of every vaccine if it’s possible or feasible to roll out in our country,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.
In a briefing with President Duterte on Tuesday night, Galvez said his task force, in consultation with vaccine experts, was evaluating candidate vaccines before deciding which one to buy.
He said the government may enter into multilateral arrangements with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for the two lenders to serve as the Philippines’ finance managers for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines.
The government could also use other methods of financing, including private-public tripartite agreement without cost to the state.
Duterte said that while the task force would have to follow procurement regulations, he was ready to expedite the process by issuing an executive order.
“If it (procurement) takes time, then I can go directly and just issue the order to buy and to vaccinate the population,” the President said.
Galvez said the task force was looking to buy 30 million to 50 million doses of a vaccine next year once it became available abroad and in the Philippines.
Ideally, the government prefers that the vaccine it will buy is developed by a manufacturer that conducted trials in the country. Though Pfizer and Moderna held their large-scale Phase 3 clinical trials abroad, Vergeire stressed that this would not hinder the government from procuring their vaccines.
“As long as they will go through the regulatory process and our experts are able to evaluate the vaccine, and the Food and Drug Administration approves its use, then we can readily procure this set of vaccines,” she said.
‘Very, very limited doses’
This early though, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan sought to temper expectations as she pointed out that there will be “very, very limited doses” of the candidate vaccines during the first half of 2021.
“Supplies are going to be limited. There are bilateral deals that many of the companies have done so many of the doses have already been booked by some countries,” said Swaminathan, adding that the WHO remained hopeful that enough doses would be appropriated for the global COVAX facility.
On Wednesday, the DOH logged 1,383 additional coronavirus infections, bringing the national case tally to 412,097. Cavite reported the most number of new infections, 81, followed by Laguna (74), Batangas (71), Quezon City (69) and Rizal (67).
The DOH said 143 more patients had recovered, raising the overall number of COVID-19 survivors to 374,666. The death toll, however, climbed to 7,957 as 95 more patients succumbed to the severe respiratory disease.
The recoveries and deaths left the country with 29,474 active cases, of which 83.8 percent were mild, 8.3 percent asymptomatic, 0.22 percent moderate, 2.7 percent severe, and 4.9 percent critical.
—With a report from Jerome Aning