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A COVID-19 vaccine may arrive soon—here's what we know so far

By PhilSTAR L!fe Published Nov 25, 2020 9:07 am Updated Dec 09, 2020 1:21 am

Everybody is waiting with bated breath for the arrival of the first batch of coronavirus vaccines in our country, which is seen to herald the gradual return to a familiar normal. Today, discussions are ongoing with three pharmaceutical companies, namely UK firm AstraZeneca, China’s Sinovac, and US firm Pfizer.

According to the government's vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, the first vaccine to be rolled out in the country may likely be China's Sinovac. 

In an interview over the ABS-CBN Channel, Galvez said “there is more confidence with Sinovac because Brazil and Indonesia had already gotten some of those.” 

“I was briefed by the vaccine expert panel and so with the DOST (Department of Science and Technology). Based on the their evaluation, Sinovac and the Chinese vaccines are very safe,” Galvez said. 

Galvez earlier said that an agreement with AstraZeneca may also come soon for a supply of at least 20 million doses. He also noted during a public briefing on Nov. 23 that the Philippines is looking at sourcing 60 million vaccine doses should negotiations with the three drugmakers be successful.

The drugmakers and their vaccines’ efficacy rates

AstraZeneca is said to be 70% effective on average in pivotal trials, and could be up to 90% effective when administered at half dose followed by a full dose a month later. Not only is it cheaper to make, it’s also easier to distribute around the world because it can be transported and stored at normal fridge temperatures. “This means we have a vaccine for the world,” said the director of the Oxford University group, Andrew Pollard.

Pfizer, on the other hand, claims its vaccine is now 95% effective. In a recent update, it was reported that the vaccine’s efficacy “was consistent across age and ethnicity demographics, and that there were no major side effects, a sign that the immunization could be employed broadly around the world.” Though concerns about side effects and storage were raised, it is said to be manageable. The company explained that there are “especially designed, temperature-controlled thermal shippers utilizing dry ice to maintain temperature conditions of -70°C.” They also added, "Pfizer is confident in its vast experience, expertise and existing cold-chain infrastructure to distribute the vaccine around the world.”

And lastly, Sinovac's CoronaVac is “currently undergoing late-stage trials to determine their effectiveness in preventing COVID-19,” according to Reuters. “Our findings show that CoronaVac is capable of inducing a quick antibody response within four weeks of immunization by giving two doses of the vaccine at a 14-day interval,” said Zhu Fengcai, one of the authors of the paper. Also, like AstraZeneca’s, CoronaVac can be stored in regular fridges “and may remain stable for up to three years,” said Reuters.

How much will the government spend?

During a meeting with the President Rodrigo Duterte on November 23, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said that the Philippines aims to tap P73.2 billion ($1.5 billion) in financing from banks, government-owned banks and corporations, and bilateral sources, to pay and supply vaccines for 60 million Filipinos.

“The government could tap P40 billion in low-cost, long-term loans from multilateral agencies like the World Bank and the ADB, while [domestically]...the government can get P20 billion from the Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines, and other government-owned and -controlled corporations,” Dominguez said.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire also announced that President Duterte has approved the payment for Pfizer’s vaccine. 

How soon can we get them?

If negotiations with the three top drugmakers and other potential suppliers go well, distribution of the 20 million doses may occur during the second quarter of 2021.

“So ang best case scenario is second quarter [of 2021], ang worst case scenario o ang tinatawag nating realistic scenario ay end of the year or early 2022,” Galvez said during a press briefing on Wednesday, November 25.

It was also reported that China’s Sinovac may already begin their Phase 3 of clinical trials in the Philippines as soon as it submits its requirements to the Food and Drug Administration.

Tinitignan po natin unang una doon sa China, Sinovac, isa po ito sa mga sources natin na more or less 20 to 50 million doses ang kukunin natin doon,” said Galvez last Monday.

Galvez was also very optimistic about the arrangements with AstraZeneca, saying that 20 million doses are already reserved for the Philippines and that the British government is willing to send assistance in rolling out the vaccine. Costing would also be affordable, too, with a price that’s “more or less $5.”

Priority recipents

During a press briefing on Wednesday, November 25, Galvez said that 60-70% of the country's 107 million population will get vaccinated within 3-5 years: ”More or less 60 to 70 million [people], we will do this in a 3- to 5-year period.”

Currently, there are more than 35 million Filipinos who are in the priority list given by the Department of Health (DOH). The government will prioritize poor families who have received social amelioration program benefits, indigents, health workers, social welfare workers, education department workers, police, and soldiers.