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Are we ahead or behind other countries in getting COVID-19 vaccines?

By PhilSTAR L!fe Published Dec 18, 2020 9:02 am Updated Dec 18, 2020 9:15 am

The country’s vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. has said that the earliest date that COVID-19 vaccination may start in the Philippines will be in the middle of next year.

Recently, Health Secretary Francisco Duque was reported to have bungled up the chance for the country to have an early batch of the Pfizer vaccine after failing to sign the needed papers on time. Duque, however, denied he was remiss.

Galvez said that 60 million doses from different supply agreements with AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, and Sinovac could arrive sometime from May to July.
But how are other countries faring in the region in terms of securing their own supply of vaccines as the world scrambles to get a hold of the initial doses?

The small and wealthy city-state is expecting to receive the initial batch of Pfizer vaccines this December 2020, with subsequent batches to come from other companies to arrive next year. 

All of Singapore's over five million registered population will receive the vaccine for free under a government program with a budget of 1 billion Singaporean dollars (or P36.2 billion). Priority will be given to those at greater risk such as healthcare frontliners, the elderly and the vulnerable. 

Vietnam’s decisive leadership enabled the government to successfully contain COVID-19 and nip a pandemic in the bud, becoming a textbook success case for other countries to emulate.

Though the number of infections occasionaly spike by a few hundreds, it is far below what other countries in the region are experiencing.

The government has been in talks with drug manufacturers in the US, Russia, and China to procure vaccines, but it is also targeting to roll-out its locally manufactured vaccines by the second half of next year.

Thailand similarly has also managed to keep its cases low, so much so that it has started to ease travel restrictions recently for 56 countries. Visitors, however, would need to undergo a two-week hotel quarantine.

The country aims to vaccinate half of its population by next year. The Thai government has already signed a deal with AstraZeneca to procure 26 million doses in mid-2021. In addition, the country also signed a technology transfer deal with Astra Zeneca that would enable it to manufacture locally the vaccine for local distribution as well as to other nearby countries.

Cambodia, which has recorded only a few hundred cases with zero casualties, has shunned China’s vaccine pending approval from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Prime Minister Hun Sen has said that they “are willing to sit back and wear facemasks while waiting (for a vaccine to get approved.)”

Hun Sen instead said they have ordered an initial batch of one million doses in a program funded by the country’s elite to buy vaccines from the WHO-backed Covax initiative.

“When it will come to us I cannot say,” Hun Sen said.

Malaysia has seen its cases spike in October, a trend that has continued to go up, hitting nearly 90,000 cases to date. On Dec. 17, the country recorded the second-highest number of COVID-19 infections in a day within the region at 1,371.

Last November, Malaysia announced a deal with Pfizer, the first country in the region to do so, to buy 12.8 million doses of the vaccine. The first batch of 1.7 million doses is expected to arrive in the first quarter of 2021, with the next batch scheduled for the succeeding quarters.

Indonesia, the biggest and most populous country in the region, has experienced the worst outbreak in Southeast Asia, with total cases now at 650,000. Each day brings new cases of between 6,000-7,000.

The country has already received 1.2 million doses from China’s Sinovac last Dec. 6 and is set to receive another million next month.

To inspire confidence in the vaccination program, President Joko Widodo has said that he will be the first recipient of the vaccine. It will be reportedly offered for free to all Indonesians.