News about the vaccine to be approved by the FDA and release for distribution by the end of the year is exciting news for everybody who is looking forward to the end of this pandemic. However, the World Health Organization estimated that these vaccines will be made available not at the end of the year but by mid-2021.
Notwithstanding, there are people I know who want to avail of the vaccine as soon as they are available and even go so far as planning to offer themselves to be part of the trials for the vaccines. On the other hand, there is also the extreme group who does not even want to be vaccinated for fear of the side effects. But I know the majority of the population is looking forward to being vaccinated. The big question now – is the Philippines ready to receive this vaccine? I found out it is not easy as most people thought it would be.
Every government around the world is faced with a herculean task in distributing the vaccines. Pfizer/BioNTech, for instance, needs a temperature of -71 degrees (colder than winter in the Arctic) and by now the United States is preparing what they call “ freezer farms” which are warehouses that contain row after row of ultra-cold storage equipment meant to house the vaccines (source: financial times dated November 24, 2020, by Kiran Stacey – ft.com).
In the Philippines, this will be more challenging because we are a tropical country and to maintain storage equipment at such a low temperature will be more difficult. Though Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines call for a very cold temperature, AstraZeneca/Oxford University only requires a normal fridge temperature. The latter is also the front runner in the race to have a vaccine approved by the FDA. Another challenge for our country is the logistics – shipment or air transport from the origin country to land transportation delivery to the warehouse and later the distribution.
The problem faced by the rich countries regarding the vaccine aside from the logistics and warehousing are first, the process of distribution (who will be prioritized and ensure that it is done equitably) and second, how to convince people to undergo vaccination. However, for the Philippines, there is a much bigger problem. How can we even get hold of the vaccine? For sure the countries of origin and the rich countries will have to prioritize their own. Next, do we have enough budget to store and distribute these vaccines? The cost of shipment/air transport, storing, distribution, and even the process of convincing people to get the vaccine is not easy and not cheap. Plus there is also the need for millions of needles, glass storage vials, PPE for health workers to administer the vaccines. The list can go on and on.
We just hope that we will be one of those 92 countries who are the beneficiaries of GAVI Vaccine Alliance from Geneva who raised funds for a pre-purchase agreement with the developers of the vaccines so these 92 developing and poor countries can be given a fair share of the vaccines. Last month they were able to raise more than their targeted amount of $2 billion (reuters.com dated November 13, 2020).
According to Gavi CEO Seth Berkly, they saw a danger that vaccines will be snapped up first by the wealthy countries and there will be no more left for the rest of the world so in cooperation with WHO they raised funds from the contributions of at least 94 rich nations and economies who signed up to the global vaccine plan known as Covax and the U.S, which wants to leave WHO is not one of them (source: bbc.com/news/health dated November 9, 2020).
The Gavi plan is that countries which signed up to Covax (global vaccine plan) – high or low income alike – will receive enough dose for 3% of their population for social and health workers, followed by senior citizens over 65 years old and other vulnerable groups who will receive the next allocation of 20%. After everybody of the aforementioned groups received the vaccine the rest would be distributed according to their criteria (source: bbc.com/news/health dated November 9, 2020.
The race to get the vaccine is starting to heat up and we should be ready that if we do get a fair share of the allocation we have the right resources and system to distribute these to our people who had been suffering long enough due to this pandemic.
(Wilma Miranda is a Managing Partner of Inventor, Miranda & Associates, CPAs, and Chair of the Media Affairs Committee of FINEX, Treasurer of Negros Outsourcing Services, Inc., and member of the Board of Directors of KPS Outsourcing, Inc. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinion of these institutions.)