The national government is finding ways to change the vaccine perception among Filipinos now that a potential COVID-19 cure is within sight, vaccine czar and National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said Wednesday.
At a virtual Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum, Galvez said changing the mindset of the people about a COVID-19 vaccine is crucial in ensuring that the National Vaccine Roadmap, which aims to inoculate about 70 million Filipinos of anti-coronavirus shots over the course of five years, will be successful.
To do this, Galvez said the government is prioritizing vaccine companies which can conduct clinical trials here in the country to show to the people that the vaccine they are offering will be safe and effective.
“The priority for our vaccine are those companies that are willing to have a clinical trial in the Philippines because [we are] considering… we have sort of only 66 percent who are willing to be vaccinated in the Philippines based on the SWS survey,” Galvez said, referring to the results of a Social Weather Stations poll released last month.
The controversy that the Dengvaxia dengue vaccine created in 2017 seemed to have come into play into play in reckoning why 44 percent of Filipinos are either still undecided or not willing to get an anti-COVID shot, Galvez admitted.
The issue stemmed from Dengvaxia manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur’s advise to the government that their vaccine could put previously uninfected people of higher risk of a severe dengue case when they are vaccinated, forcing the Department of Health to suspend the vaccination program in November 2017.
“We are very sorry to say that last week, we had some stories about Dengvaxia. It created some misconception about Filipino people not having the vaccine,” Galvez said.
The vaccine czar said that a boost in vaccine confidence among the public will be achieved if vaccine makers will conduct clinical trials in the country and especially if their tests will yield positive results.
“We wanted to have some sort of validation of clinical trials that have been conducted abroad. This clinical trial will [change the] psychological perception of the Filipino people that the vaccines that will be used here are safe and effective,” he said.
Joey Concepcion, Presidential Adviser on Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder, said the COVID-19 vaccine will be the “nuclear warhead” that will “kill” the COVID-19 pandemic in this ongoing “war.”
“For as long as there is a high level of infection out there, nobody will want to go out, nobody will want to spend. Their fear is if there is a rise [in cases] again, then the economy is closed, then they will lose their jobs,” Concepcion said.
“This is the only solution that we see that can give us the longer lasting solution to opening up the economy,” he added.
Currently, the government is validating 17 vaccine candidates from at least 10 countries.
Of these, five vaccine candidates are set to conduct a Phase 3 clinical trial in the country which involves the inoculation of about 1,000 to 4,000 test subjects to measure the efficacy of the vaccines, Galvez said.
The five vaccine candidates are from United Kingdom’s AstraZeneca, United States’ Johnson and Johnson (J&J), China’s Sinovac and Clover, and Russia’s Gamaleya.
Meanwhile, United States’ Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which post high efficiency results in their respective Phase 3 clinical trials abroad, are also being eyed by the government even if they would not hold the trials here in the country.
But Galvez emphasized that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to ensure that the US FDA will approve the American vaccines first before these are allowed to be used by the public in the Philippines.
He said the US FDA is set to convene on December 17 reportedly to give an “emergency use authorization” (EUA) for Pfizer and Moderna so they can already roll out their vaccines in America.
An EUA is a mechanism to facilitate the availability and use of medical countermeasures, including vaccines, during public health emergencies.
With this, Galvez said that the vaccine distribution abroad will likely start by Christmastime or early 2021.
“Based on the report in the global market, I believe Pfizer and Moderna will receive their emergency use utilization by middle of December because we believe that the US FDA will be convening on December 17,” he said.
“AstraZeneca might be having their own FDA approval by middle of January (2021) and J&J will follow. In United Kingdom, it is very likely that Pfizer and AstraZeneca will be rolled out within weeks. We have some reports that the British government will be having an immediate rollout by middle of December,” he added.
In the Philippines, Galvez said he already discussed to President Duterte last Monday the possible issuance of an EUA to leading vaccine candidates through the signing of an executive order (EO).
Before a vaccine is allowed to be rolled out in the market, the normal process includes the evaluation of a vaccine candidate by the FDA and the vaccine expert panel (VEP) which usually lasts up to six months.
But if the EUA is given to a vaccine candidate, the evaluation may be cut to within 21 to 30 days “after removing some bureaucracies,” Galvez explained.
While the vaccine czar awaits Duterte’s decision on the signing of an EO regarding the issuance of EUA to vaccine candidates, Galvez said the AstraZeneca vaccine may start arriving in the country “at the best case scenario” by the second quarter of 2021.
Last week, the government, in partnership with the private sector, sealed a tripartite agreement with AstraZeneca for the supply of about 2.6 million doses of its vaccines worth around P600 million. The AstraZeneca offered the cheapest vaccine at $10 or around P500 for two doses.
He said negotiations are still on-going with other countries for other sources of vaccines especially since the competition in the market has become tighter, with 80 percent of vaccine supplies already secured by rich countries.
“The Philippines is now fighting for the remaining 15 to 18 percent supply,” Galvez said, adding that the other two percent already went to the COVAX facility, a pooled procurement mechanism for a COVID-19 vaccine in which the Philippines is participating.