POSTSCRIPT / November 29, 2020 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Vaccination plan gets booster shot

WE HOPE that the noble intentions of the public and private parties that signed Friday an agreement for the procurement of 2.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine will carry the nation through its perilous voyage in uncharted seas whipped up by a raging pandemic.

The signing is a good example of how the public and the private sectors can join hands in pushing forward worthy programs of the government. The participating individuals and firms are mentioned in the news reports.

Reading the statements of the signatories and participants, we note that they covered most of the key aspects of the mass vaccination plan. Some of us watching by the shore will try to help refine it by playing an oversight role.

We start now by asking questions that have been left hanging. We are doing this in the spirit of promoting transparency in an endeavor that affects us all. Here goes:

* Are we buying vaccines only from AstraZeneca? If yes, why? If no, what are the other possible sources, and at what prices and terms are we ready to buy? Does the government have funds for the purchase as well as the logistical chain that follows?

* Is the AstraZeneca price ex-factory? Who gets the commission, referral fee, handling fee, or whatever it is called?

* When did the Food and Drug Administration test and approve the safety and efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine? What are its approved ratings? Are there pending applications for the approval of vaccines of other suppliers? What about applications for emergency use?

* Will FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines be available in the market for those who can afford to pay but are not on the vaccination priority list of the government? Are the prices of vaccines regulated or controlled?

* What is the status of offers made for the supply/use of vaccines from China and Russia? Are they interested in involving Filipinos in Phase-3 trials or in mass vaccination? What are the terms? Is it possible that we will also buy FDA-approved vaccines from China and Russia?

* When will government list in clear descending priority the designated recipients of free vaccination using its share in the AstraZeneca stock? For inoculation, will the recipients line up in vaccination centers or do vaccinators go to them?

* In the case of soldiers and policemen, will recipients include everybody in the AFP and PNP rosters or only those who come in daily contact with patients and suspected virus carriers? Who among their family members qualify for free vaccination as ordered by the President?

* Are people who are to be vaccinated required first to take swab tests to check if they have the virus even if they do not manifest symptoms? If no, why not? If yes, how soon after the swabbing or the results are known should the vaccine be administered?

* Can one be infected between the time he is swabbed and the time the results are known? What should be done during the interval to preclude infection? What happens if one is vaccinated when he is already infected?

* Has AstraZeneca satisfactorily answered the questions of its peers on the trial data of its vaccine and the discrepancies in its claimed efficacy based on two regimens using different dosages injected on different age-bracketed recipients?

* How soon can the government publish the time frame or schedule of the arrival in the country of the AstraZeneca stock and its distribution throughout the archipelago?

* If the goal is to eventually vaccinate 60 percent of the population to achieve herd immunity, what is the timetable? Can this be done within Duterte’s term which ends in 2022?

* During the three-to-five-year inoculation period mentioned by vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., what will the rest of the 100-million-plus population who are not on the priority list be doing to protect themselves from COVID-19?

There are other questions that need at least a clarification. We will ask them later.

 AstraZeneca ‘success’ raises hope, eyebrows

WHEN the world reeling under the COVID-19 pandemic first heard reports Monday of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine scoring an average of 70-percent efficacy, the news not only raised hope but also eyebrows, according to CNN.

AstraZeneca said that study participants in the United Kingdom had been given two different courses. In one group, 2,741 participants received a half-dose of the vaccine and then a full dose at least a month later. This group got 90-percent protection against COVID-19.

But another group of 8,895 received a full dose followed by another full dose at least a month later. The second group got only 62-percent protection. Averaging the findings, AZ said its vaccine was 70-percent effective.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Menelas Pangalos, AstraZeneca executive vice president, said: “The mistake is actually irrelevant.”

“Whichever way you cut the data — even if you only believe the full-dose, full-dose data… We still have efficacy that meets the thresholds for approval with a vaccine that’s over 60-percent effective,” he said.

The US Food and Drug Administration requires a threshold of at least 50-percent efficacy. It is not clear if the FDA will authorize emergency use, however. AstraZeneca has not yet tested its half-strength dose in the US.

When other major drugmakers, Pfizer and Moderna, released their efficacy results earlier this month, they included the data underlying their results.

AstraZeneca said 131 participants developed the data-basis for its efficacy rating, but it did not say how many of them had received either the vaccine or placebo. What also remains unclear is why the two-dose regimes produced different efficacy results.

On Wednesday, the US vaccine czar Moncef Slaoui said they were reviewing AstraZeneca’s data. He said the group that got the mistakenly lower dose that yielded the 90-percent efficacy had been a younger group, with no one older than 55. He noted that young people typically produce stronger immune responses to vaccines.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 29, 2020)

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