Philippine-made anti-coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, anyone?
This ambitious plan might be a reality in the near future as Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. revealed Wednesday, March 17, that the national government has started negotiating with international vaccine manufacturers to look into the possibility of producing the country’s very own anti-COVID-19 vaccine.
Galvez, the country’s vaccine czar and chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19, said there would be a “continuing program” dubbed as “Bridging the Valley of Death” between the Philippines and India after he signed a supply deal with the Serum Institute of India Private Ltd. (SIIPL) last week for the delivery of 30 million doses of Novavax vaccines.
He said the government “is working closely” with the SIIPL, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer, to establish a “long-term cooperation” for the Philippines’ plan of manufacturing its own vaccines, a capability that the country had in 1938.
“Before we were the ones who were producing our vaccines and even donating it to other countries such as China. President Duterte is more inclined in his earlier statements to reactivate and revive that capability,” Galvez said.
“The deal we are now exploring with SII is a fulfillment of a shared vision in ‘Bridging the Valley of Death’ by providing cost-efficient vaccines for the developing world,” he said.
According to Galvez, members of the Vaccine Expert Panel (VEP) will conduct exploratory talks with SIIPL on health security, particularly on the development of a portfolio of vaccines that would “completely eliminate” COVID-19.
Although Galvez did not disclose specific details of the on-going program, he stressed that developing the country’s own vaccine technology through its partnership with SII will “allow the country to become self-sufficient in terms of vaccine production, and provide affordable vaccines as well as other medicines to its people.”
This could be crucial as the government is having a hard time of establishing a steady supply of vaccines due to global shortage.
The need for vaccines was further aggravated by the sudden surge in the number of coronavirus cases this month.
Galvez said that under the joint program with India, the government will try to achieve herd immunity by 2021 through the inoculation of 70 million people (70 percent of total population) as part of its “containment strategy.”
By 2022, the government “will be looking on the elimination of COVID-19,” Galvez boldly stated, through the development of second and third generation of vaccines “that can be one-time, big-time boosters.”
“When they (SIIPL) presented [the plan] to us, [we have seen that] they can prevent the contamination. So this is our strategy: this 2021 is for the containment to get the herd immunity by collecting 70 percent [of total population], but in 2022, we will work with different manufacturing companies on how to eliminate the disease,” Galvez said.
This was not the first time that the government floated the idea of developing a locally-made anti-COVID-19 vaccine.
In May 2020, during the height of the pandemic, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Pena raised the possible reactivation of the pharmaceutical development unit of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the development of the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP) which would be used as the country’s premier research facility in addressing the emerging needs brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Dr. Jaime Montoya, executive director of the DOST’s Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD), said three months later that the country still has a long way to go in making its dream of developing a COVID-19 vaccine a reality as it will require huge investments and resources.