Vaccines are coming

Published May 24, 2021, 6:00 AM

by Vince Socco

Finally, it appears that the vaccines are arriving in the country in the bulk needed to significantly advance our fight against Covid.

As of May 18, 2021, a total of 3.3 million vaccine doses have been administered across the nation.  Fifty-five percent of these are first doses. That’s a long way to go to attain the “better Christmas” that the IATF hopes for.  To be able to get to herd immunity, we need to inoculate about 70 percent of our population. Excluding those 18 years old and below – for which there is no approved vaccine yet – the target number is around 60 million or so Filipinos.

Admittedly, the vaccine rollout has been slower than desired. In fairness to the government, though, supply has been a major hurdle. The home countries of the vaccine manufacturers – rightly or not – got first dibs on the supply. Strong calls were made to equalize access across all nations, especially through COVAX, the vaccine development and distribution initiative co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO). A loosening of supply was realized, but at a painfully slow pace.

To be sure, there may have been some missed opportunities for the Philippines to secure vaccine supplies sooner, like unintended delays in the placement and processing of orders. Mainly, though, it was access that was the culprit. That is why the government opted to broaden its sourcing to include as many brands and source-countries as possible – Sinovac from China, Astra Zeneca from Europe, Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson from the USA and Sputnik from Russia, among others.

Additionally, government partnered with the private sector in negotiating and funding vaccine supply. The collaborative efforts with business enterprises – big and small –  was a strategic move that enabled a more robust effort to secure and deploy much needed vaccines for the Filipinos. As contracts with vaccine manufacturers were secured and Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) were granted, what remained as the final hurdle was time: the waiting game began.

What does the vaccine supply outlook look like? Until May, 7.8 million doses are reportedly in-country. Another 9.2 million is expected in June. In the third quarter of the year, 53.5 million more doses are scheduled to arrive. And, in the last quarter of 2021, 60 million doses will close out the year’s deliveries of vaccines. 

That’s a total of 130 million doses within the year, enough to cover 65 million Filipinos with two doses each. If that happens, that will get us across the desired herd immunity threshold. But, there are still a number of variables to consider.

One is overcoming vaccine anxiety. A survey conducted by Octa Research in late January, revealed that only 19 percent of Filipinos would get vaccinated and 35 percent were undecided. Unfortunately, a very significant 46 percent of respondents said they would not get vaccinated. Out of those that replied they would not get vaccinated, 73 percent mentioned that they were not sure of the safety of the vaccine. Another 29 percent said they were not sure it was effective. This hesitancy to get the vaccine inoculation is a major impediment to achieving herd immunity.

Another variable is the deployment of the vaccine itself. So far, vaccine centers were opened throughout the country in cooperation with the local government units. From every indication, these centers were able to perform creditably in delivering the inoculations. To be sure, there were some hitches but nothing that was seemingly insurmountable.

However, the set-up – facilities, equipment, staffing, supplies – and operation of these centers were still on a manageable level given the limited supply of vaccines. From a million or so doses per month, this will ramp up to five or six million. The logistics become infinitely more complex, especially for those vaccines that need special handling. Government and the private sector will also be simultaneously sourcing for logistics partners and staff as the allocation of vaccines for business coalitions starts to become available. The good thing is that there has been a more than adequate lead time for stakeholders to prepare.  Also, the activation of mega-vaccination centers should go a long way in expanding vaccination capacity.

Other operational issues like registration and monitoring of vaccinees and wastage of vaccines may pop up but, hopefully, these are sorted out swiftly. The most recent ruckus relating to vaccines is the rising outcry for a choice in the brand of the vaccine to be received. We hope that this becomes a non-issue before too long because, in the end, it’s not what brand but the jab in your arm that matters the most.

With the deployment of vaccines in earnest, the much needed re-opening of the economy can be realized, we can come out of quarantine and we can live the new normal.

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