COVID-19 vaccine by 2021 a long shot but possible â pharma firms
The Philippines is presently participating in the solidarity trial of the World Health Orgnization (WHO) for vaccines against the virus.
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COVID-19 vaccine by 2021 a long shot but possible — pharma firms

Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - June 4, 2020 - 3:10pm

MANILA, Philippines — A number of pharmaceutical companies today said that it was possible but unlikely that a vaccine for COVID-19 would be ready by 2021. 

In a forum hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP), MSD Philippines president Beaver Tamesis called such a short timeline “a stretch.” 

Tamesis, who is also the president of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, added that the estimated timeline for the development of the COVID-19 vaccine is still relatively short as many companies started with previously validated technology. 

Pfizer Philippines Country Manager Andreas Riedel further explained that the unprecedented data sharing between pharmaceutical companies for COVID clinical trials is another reason for the shorter timeline. 

"[We] are sharing all the data we are gaining in real time so hopefully regulatory agencies can evaluate at the earliest possible time whether the safety and efficacy principles has been met that would enable to make vaccines available. As everyone said, we are really working in an unprecedented speed,” he said. 

Sanofi Pasteur Philippines General Manager Jean-Antoine Zinsou, however, warned the public to manage their expectations for when vaccines are finally approved. 

“There is no vaccine that is 100-percent efficacious. So this vaccine as will be as the others, with a certain level of efficacy and a level of safety as well,” he said. Sanofi dengue vaccine Dengvaxia has been banned in the Philippines after the comany disclosed that those who were vaccinated and who had not previously contracted dengue were at risk of severe dengue.

The disclosure, as well as allegations that the vaccine had caused deaths in children who had been vaccinated, scuttled a government immunization program although the Department of Health has maintained that there is no evidence linking the deaths to Dengvaxia.

When market authorization for vaccines push through, it will be up to the government to create benefit-risk assessments based on their profile and to decide whether they will be beneficial to their populations. 

Riedel said he is hopeful that the government will have a number of vaccines to choose from, explaining that previous statistics show that three to five vaccines are likely to be successful from the over 100 that are currently in development. 

What needs to be done in the meantime

The importance of planning before the vaccine’s arrival was also highlighted in the forum. 

"What needs to be done at the country level to be ready once the vaccine is available [is] defining the population that will benefit the most from [the] vaccine. [This] needs to be done while the vaccine is being developed and while the manufacturing capacity is still being developed,” Zinsou stressed. 

He also highlighted the importance of educating the public on how the vaccine will be dispersed by the government.

He pointed out that manufacturing capabilities would make it impossible to immediately produce enough vaccines for everyone. This means governments will have to choose certain groups in the population who will get the vaccine first. 

“We will have to prioritize the population that will benefit the most from this vaccine and therefore there is an education that is needed. The people [need] to understand why this group of [the] population is vaccinated and not this other group. Otherwise there will be some kind of...contest in the country because people will not understand why they are not given access to the vaccine,” he said.  

Malacañang earlier this month said they would be prioritizing the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. 

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque in an interview with GMA said that the government already has an immunization plan for COVID-19 prepared. 

He added that the government would shoulder the costs for those who cannot afford the vaccine.

There are currently 19,748 cases of novel coronavirus in the country. The local death toll of the virus is now at 974.

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