WHO sees better access of low and middle-income countries to vaccine
MANILA, Philippines — Oxford/AstraZeneca’s announcement that its candidate vaccine is on average 70 percent effective against the new coronavirus not only increases the number of vaccines that governments can access but also provides “huge logistical advantages” to low-to-middle-income countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said that since the candidate vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca is stable and can be stored in ordinary refrigerator temperatures of between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius for six months, it helps ensure communities would have access to a safe and efficacious vaccine.
“[It] has huge logistical advantages for transporting and delivering this vaccine to cities, towns and villages, and rural areas around the world. We hope there will be more vaccines like that which are more heat stable,” Swaminathan said at a briefing in the WHO headquarters in Geneva.
70% average efficacy
In a statement, the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company said results from its Phase 3 clinical trials in the United Kingdom and Brazil showed 90 percent efficacy among patients who received half a dose of the vaccine, followed by a full dose at least a month apart.
For those who received two full doses of the vaccine at least a month apart, efficacy was 62 percent, resulting in an average efficacy of 70 percent.
With its findings, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine becomes the third candidate vaccine found to be effective against COVID-19. The two others were developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna/US National Institutes of Health.
Unlike Pfizer and Moderna, which used the mRNA (messenger RNA) platform, Oxford/Astrazeneca used the viral vector platform, which was based on a weakened version of a common cold virus in chimpanzees.
Though Pfizer’s vaccine is nearly 95 percent effective, it poses a challenge to low-income countries like the Philippines since it has to be stored in a freezer with a temperature of -70 degrees or lower. Moderna’s vaccine, which is also 95 percent effective, can be kept as well at between 2 and 8 degrees, but only for 30 days.
While Oxford/AstraZeneca’s vaccine is above the WHO benchmark efficacy of 50 percent, Swaminathan said the WHO needed to see more data on its safety and efficacy since the initial results were based on only more than 11,000 participants.
“The AstraZeneca vaccine is currently being trialed in many other countries and eventually we’ll have data on 60,000 patients that will enable us to have a much more informed decision,” said Swaminathan, adding that the company is already in talks with them for its inclusion in its prequalification program.
Out by January
Earlier, AstraZeneca said that if its large-scale Phase 3 clinical trials proved successful, it would ramp up manufacturing of its vaccine, which could be out in the market by January next year.
The Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH) had said that AstraZeneca already expressed intention to hold large-scale trials in the country.
Earlier, Carlito Galvez Jr., chief of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, said the government had met with AstraZeneca thrice and was given assurance that the vaccine would be sold at cost. He added that of all the vaccines that had so far been evaluated by the vaccine expert panel, AstraZeneca’s was the cheapest at $5 per dose.
“Right now our negotiations [with AstraZeneca] are looking at accessing at least 3 to 5 million [doses]. But we’re working to [raise it to] at least 10 million doses for our front-liners,” Galvez said.
On Tuesday, Galvez said the Philippines could have an advance commitment with AstraZeneca by November and its quota was 20 million doses.
He said AstraZeneca’s logistics personnel, as well as members of the British military, would visit the Philippines to help in the rollout of the vaccine should an agreement be reached.
There would also be a triparty agreement among AstraZeneca, the government of the United Kingdom, and the Philippine government under which the private sector would shoulder the cost of AstraZeneca vaccines, according to International Container Terminal Services Inc. executive vice president Christian Gonzalez.
He said there was already a commitment for 2 million doses of the vaccine, which would be good for 1 million people.
Half the volume would be for use of the DOH and the other half would be for private parties, he said.
“This is just a way for us through this triparty agreement again to contribute to this effort of the national government,” Gonzalez said.
Galvez said negotiations with Sinovac were going on with help from Chinese-Filipino businessmen, who were negotiating for a lower price of the vaccine.
The government is also talking to Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, he said.
Once the deals are concluded, these pharmaceutical companies will provide the 60 million doses the country needs, he added.
Galvez said the rollout of the vaccines would be geographical and sectoral.
Areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases would get the vaccines first, he said. These include Metro Manila and the cities of Davao, Cebu and Bacolod, he added.
Among sectors, he said, the poor, elderly, state security forces and essential workers would get priority.
President Duterte on Tuesday said Interior Secretary Eduardo Año would be in charge of manpower for the distribution of vaccines.
Año can tap the police and the barangay officials for the task, he said.
Mr. Duterte explained his decision to include the police and the military in the priority list for the vaccine, saying they were the “errand boys of the Republic.”
Soldiers and police officers are the first to respond to calamities and ensure law and order in the country, he said. INQ
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