How ready is COVID vaccination program?
ARE we ready to roll out this month the most massive vaccination ever to be attempted on these islands to stop the rampage of the COVID-19 coronavirus that has infected more than 537,500 and killed at least 11,180 Filipinos?
Will the mass inoculation kick off as soon as the first batch of 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrives this month? Before yearend, according to the administration, more vaccines will be coming until 148 million doses are injected into 70 percent of the population to achieve herd immunity.
In the second quarter, 10 to 15 million more doses are expected. From the COVAX facility, a maximum of 9.2 million doses are coming, with 44 million due by the end of the year. Between 30 million to 50 million doses will have arrived by yearend, enough to inoculate about 25 million more.
All those term sheets and delivery schedules being mentioned look good on paper, signed by both intending buyer and seller. With countless details being negotiated, however, anything could go wrong.
President Duterte in his last televised update tried not to raise expectations, probably because of the fluidity of the overall situation. He kept repeating the caveat that in the world market, those with ready money to plunk down get it, while poor Philippines still has to borrow money to buy what it needs.
In other words, as we in the news reporting business say, until it happens it has not happened.
By this late date, Vaccine Czar Carlito Galvez Jr. should at least have everything either figured out or set in place. Public health workers, for instance, must have been trained, deployed, and primed by now to play their part in the massive operation. The logistical supply chain must be ready too.
The millions of perishable vaccines, bought with borrowed funds, will be distributed through a supply chain sensitive to temperature changes and jarring movements. Any mistake will have to be corrected on the go within deadlines and without jeopardizing the drugs’ efficacy.
Earlier, officials were saying that herd immunity – that level at which a sufficiently big portion of the community (70-80 percent) has gained immunity, thereby blocking the spread of the contagion – may be achieved in two to five years. Now Galvez is aiming for the end of 2021 as the target?
Until last week, the government had been negotiating with seven firms to supply the vaccines: Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, Sinovac, Gamaleya, and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen). Five have signed term sheets containing the details to be written into the final contracts.
Agreements have also been entered into with local governments and private firms for them to buy vaccines under sharing schemes on payments and usage. Some vaccines will be procured with hefty discounts through the COVAX facility led by the World Health Organization.
The COVAX vaccines, like five million doses of AstraZeneca, will be dispensed in COVID-19 referral hospitals in Metro Manila, including the Philippine General Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines, East Avenue Medical Center, and the Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital.
The vaccination priority in descending order follows: Frontline health workers, 1.7 million or 1.6 percent of the target population; indigent citizens, 3.7 million or 3.5 percent; remaining senior citizens, 5.6 million or 5.3 percent; remaining indigents, 12.9 million or 12 percent; uniformed personnel (PNP, AFP, PCG, BFP and CAFGU, 525,523 or .5 percent. (President Duterte has ordered the inclusion of their family members).
• Alarm sounded on variant’s spread
WHILE its human victims look for ways to foil it, a more contagious variant of the coronavirus first found in Britain (code-named B.1.1.7) is spreading rapidly in the United States, doubling roughly every 10 days, according to a New York Times report Sunday.
Researchers analyzing half-a-million coronavirus tests and hundreds of genomes predicted that in a month’s time this variant could become predominant in the US, where it leap-frogged from the United Kingdom late last year.
In Manila, the Department of Health has been on the lookout for its appearance, but so far has not sounded an alarm.
Last month, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that the variant could become predominant by March if it behaved the way it did in the UK. The new study appears to confirm that projected path.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top US epidemiologist, rejected on Sunday suggestions that the second dose of a two-dose vaccination be delayed so it could be used on others waiting for their first dose. He said the vaccine supply problem will be long-resolved before researchers are able to study the proposal.
“If you want to really study it — the amount of time that it will take, the number of people you would have to put in the study — by that time, we will already be in the arena of having enough vaccines to go around,” Fauci told host Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“It would be nice to know, if you just give one dose, how long the durability lasts, and what is the level of effect,” Fauci said. “But what we have right now, and what we must go with, is the scientific data that we’ve accumulated.”
An expert, Michael Osterholm, suggested last week that delaying second shots to administer more first doses could prevent a possible “Category 5” hurricane-like surge in cases.
Fauci said the vaccine supply will increase “substantially” in the coming weeks and months. “Things are going to get better as we get from February into March into April because the number of vaccine doses that will be available will increase substantially,” he said.