By Argyll Cyrus Geducos and AFP
President Duterte has allowed the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines in the country, the same practice that is being observed in China and soon in the United States, two countries that are already in the advanced stage of developing the vaccine against the highly contagious respiratory illness.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made the announcement following reports that the vaccine being developed by Pfizer is 95 percent effective against COVID-19.
Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday a completed analysis of their experimental COVID-19 vaccine found it protected 95 percent of people against the disease and announced they were applying for US emergency approval “within days.”
The news from the US pharmaceutical company and its German partner brought further hope to a world upended by the coronavirus pandemic, and follows an announcement last week in which they said a preliminary analysis showed the product was 90 percent effective.
Adding to the encouraging data was that the efficacy was found to be consistent across all age-groups – a primary concern for a disease that hits the elderly the hardest – as well as genders and ethnicities.
“The study results mark an important step in this historic eight-month journey to bring forward a vaccine capable of helping to end this devastating pandemic,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.
On Monday, US biotech firm Moderna said the two-dose vaccine it developed with the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) was 94.5 percent effective, according to a preliminary analysis.
Both vaccines use mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) technology to deliver genetic material to the body that makes human cells create a protein from the virus. This trains the immune system to be ready to attack if it encounters SARS-CoV-2.
“These achievements highlight the potential of mRNA as a new drug class,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said.
There are important differences between the two vaccines. Pfizer’s needs to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius (- 94 degrees Fahrenheit) while Moderna’s only needs -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit), more akin to a regular freezer.
Duterte EO out soon
In his Thursday presser, Roque said that President Duterte will soon issue an executive order (EO), through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that will authorize the emergency use of vaccines as long as these were already approved by the FDA in their respective countries of origin.
“Hindi pa po naglalabas ni Presidente ang Executive Order (The President has not issued the EO yet),” he said.
“‘Pag nilabas na po ‘yan ni Presidente mapapabilis po yung proseso ng paggamit ng mga bakuna na meron na ring authorization sa mga FDAs ng mga bansa kung saan na-develop ang mga vaccine (When the EO comes out, the process before one can get the vaccine will be faster as long as these vaccines are already approved by their respective FDAs),” he added.
According to Roque, with the EO, it will take only 21 days before a person can get the vaccine.
“Kung mapipirmahan po itong Executive Order na ito, 21 araw na lang po magagamit na rin natin sa Pilipinas (Once the EO is signed, we’ll only have to wait for 21 days before the vaccine can be used here in the Philippines),” he said.
“Dati-rati po, bago magamit ang isang bakuna dito na approved na ng US o Chinese FDA, kinakailangan muna ng anim na buwan ng pagsusuri (Back then, before we can use a vaccine that is already approved by the US or Chinese FDA, we need to wait for six months of testing),” he added.
In the same press briefing, Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said that the country is looking at 17 possible vaccines to bring into the country.
“Marami na tayong kinakausap na vaccine companies at saka maganda ang ating (We’ve been talking to many vaccine companies and we have good) relationship with different countries,” he said.
“Iyong companies na sponsored nila ay may naka-allocate na quota sa atin (The companies that these countries have sponsored have allocated a quota for us),” he added.
However, Galvez said that they are recommending that there should still be a clinical trial of the said vaccines in the Philippines.
Modes of procurement
Meanwhile, Roque enumerated the different methods of how the Philippines can procure COVID-19 vaccines. He said one is direct procurement through the Government Procurement Reform Act or the Bayanihan To Recover As One Act.
He said the country can also enter into multilateral loans like the Asian Development Bank-World Bank Project Loan for Vaccine. Another way is through bilateral loans.
Roque likewise hailed the private sector for committing to pay for 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine where 50-80 percent will go to the government and the rest will be given to their employees.
According to Galvez, the country can get hold of Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine called Sputnik V by the first quarter of 2021.
He said that the government is targeting to vaccinate 25 million Filipinos next year and this is possible because the Philippines has good diplomatic relationships with both China and the US which is giving the country “a lot of allocations.”
Galvez added that the government is targeting to get 30 million to 50 million doses from the said firms that they are in contact with.
Meanwhile, Roque reminded the public that while COVID-19 vaccines are arriving in the country soon, they should still follow quarantine and health protocols to avoid catching the disease.
“So konting tulog na lang mga kaibigan, mga kababayan. Pero habang wala pang bakuna, mask, hugas, iwas (We don’t have to wait that long. But while we’re waiting, wear your mask, wash your hands, and practice physical distancing),” he said.
“Nandiyan na po, baka ngayon pa kayo magkasakit. ‘Wag naman (It’s there already. I hope you won’t get sick now),” he added.