There’s both good and bad news concerning the much-awaited vaccine that is widely seen as humanity’s only way out of this crippling coronavirus pandemic.
But let’s discuss the good news first. It’s certainly an “incredible milestone for science” that two brands of vaccine were reported last week to have very high efficacy, sparking celebration around the world.
US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German biotech partner BioNTech announced on Nov. 18 that its COVID-19 vaccine has 95% efficacy, based on the final analysis of its phase 3 trials involving 43,000 people around the world. The announcement revealed the immune response was “consistent across age, gender, race, and ethnicity demographics.”
The trials “had 162 confirmed cases of symptomatic COVID-19 in the placebo group versus eight among those who received the two scheduled doses of the vaccine. The efficacy, which was measured 7 days after the second dose of the vaccine, was the same in different races and ethnicities,” a published report said on Pfizer’s study. “Nine of the 10 people who had severe cases of COVID-19 during the trial received the placebo, which indicates that even if the vaccine fails to prevent symptomatic disease, it still offers powerful protection from serious harm. No serious side effects surfaced… although 3.7% of the vaccinated reported fatigue after the injections.”
Two days later, biotech company Moderna reported that its vaccine reduced by 94.5% the risk of coronavirus infection, based on an analysis of its study on 30,000 people. On the safety of its vaccine, Moderna said there were no serious safety concerns as “generally short-lived events that occurred in greater than 2% of patients included fatigue and muscle pain, which happened in nearly 1 patient in 10, and headache and achiness.”
The findings on the success rates of COVID-19 vaccines developed by these pharma and biotech companies, including Russia’s “Sputnik V” vaccine which is said to have 92% efficacy, certainly excite scientists and public health experts.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, described as “truly striking” the results of the trials. He said months ago that 95% efficacy would be “aspirational” as he was satisfied with a vaccine that would be 70% to 75% effective. “Well, our aspirations have been met and that is very good news,” he now says.
And also good news is the announcement of Moderna that its vaccine “remains stable in conventional refrigerators for a month and ordinary freezers for six months.”
But here are comes bad news: The vaccine of Pfizer/ BioNTech must be stored in temperatures of -70°C to -80°C. This means that delivery/distribution of the vaccine needing the very cold temperatures might be a nightmare in tropical countries like the Philippines with no vital cold storage infrastructure.
Indeed, sufficient and proper equipment utilized by specially trained personnel are indispensable in ensuring the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine is retained in a cold chain system that runs through the various areas of our archipelago.
“Is the country going to be ready to store and to ship this vaccine to distribute it among our 7,600 islands, especially since each Filipino will have to be given two doses separated by a month?” asks Fr. Nicanor Austriaco, a visiting professor of biological sciences at the University of Santo Tomas.
Aside from storage and distribution logistics, another cause for concern is if our country would be able to get the vaccine in a timely manner, amid a report that wealthy nations comprising 13% of the global population have already bought up more than half of the doses of COVID-19 vaccines to be produced in the near future.
A report by Oxfam, a global organization seeking to end the injustice of poverty, said “supply deals have so far been agreed for 5.3 billion doses, of which 2.7 billion (51%) have been bought by developed countries, territories, and regions, including the US, UK, European Union, Australia, Hong Kong and Macau, Japan, Switzerland, and Israel.”
“The remaining 2.6 billion doses have been bought by or promised to developing countries including India, Bangladesh, China, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico, among others,” Oxfam added.
“Access to a life-saving vaccine shouldn’t depend on where you live or how much money you have,” says Oxfam official Robert Silverman. “The development and approval of a safe and effective vaccine is crucial, but equally important is making sure the vaccines are available and affordable to everyone. COVID-19 anywhere is COVID-19 everywhere.”
How true. And it is our government that Filipinos are relying on to ensure that life-saving vaccines are made available in this part of the world. Indeed, we are pinning our hopes on the vaccines, and on our government as well.
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