Vaccine: Only a few months away
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - August 2, 2020 - 12:00am

We were extremely sad to hear about so many people we know, and some even friends or acquaintances, who have passed away due to COVID-19. What is even more disturbing or fearsome is that some of them sacrificed staying home for the last four months only to die after being exposed to the virus in a matter of weeks. Here in the US, what was horrifying is the irresponsible, “couldn’t care less” attitude of young people who engaged in “COVID” parties resulting in surging infection and death rates.

For those of us who have already “kept our distance” and have been practicing patience, the good news is that the vaccine is only a few months away. Three major US pharmaceutical and biotech companies are already on Phase 3 of clinical trials and may get the green light as early as September. US FDA authorities also said the agency may even consider giving “emergency use authorization” within a matter of weeks once a candidate vaccine meets appropriate efficacy requirements.

Leading the pack are Pfizer and Moderna, both launching Phase 3 human trials with 30,000 subjects each – said to be the largest compared to other candidate vaccines being developed by other countries. Both have also been selected by the US government for “Operation Warp Speed” – a program committed to speeding up the development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to be ready for delivery at the earliest September or end of this year.

Pfizer – which partnered with German company BioNTech – is ready with full large-scale production with delivery of an initial 100 million doses this year plus up to 500 million additional doses under an agreement with the US government, likely by the first quarter of next year. Pfizer is optimistic about the success of the clinical trials and they are on track for a regulatory review as early as October. In fact, Japan is the first to secure an agreement with the US pharma giant for the delivery of 120 million doses of the potential vaccine by first quarter of next year.

While it usually takes years and even decades to develop and approve a vaccine, progress has been really fast because this new coronavirus has similarities with earlier coronavirus strains such as SARS and MERS that scientists have previously worked on. As one virologist noted, we have to be faster than this virus that has already infected over 17.5 million people and caused close to 700,000 deaths all over the world.

“We have been committed to making the impossible possible by working tirelessly to develop and produce in record time a safe and effective vaccine to help bring an end to this global health crisis,” said Pfizer chairman and CEO Dr. Albert Bourla, underscoring the urgent need to develop a vaccine in record time to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here in Washington, we have tirelessly been interacting with US pharmaceutical companies, specifically with Pfizer, where we already had several virtual meetings. We are also in touch with Pfizer’s country manager in the Philippines Andreas Reidel with whom we discussed our requirements for the COVID-19 vaccine following our meetings with officials of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) including Health Secretary Francisco Duque, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez and Department of Science and Technology (DOST) chief Boy Dela Peña.

With the Philippines’ participation in the Gavi COVAX facility which is a global coalition among countries and vaccine manufacturers, we have a better chance of getting a successful vaccine with 150 candidates under development, with 25 of them now undergoing human trials in various stages.

During earlier conversations with Secretary Dominguez, he indicated that funds will be available for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines. During the televised meeting of the IATF with the President, Secretary Dominguez said as much as $400 million will be allocated for the purchase of 40 million vaccines to be distributed for free to 20 million Filipinos. Priority of course will be people living in congested areas, which we suggested since viruses tend to spread more rapidly in communities where thousands of informal settlers live.

We also spoke to Manny Pangilinan whose hospital group owns and manages more than a dozen hospitals all over the country. The group is preparing to purchase the vaccines for distribution in their hospitals.

From day one, we have always believed a vaccine is the only way out of this nightmare. Although there are other countries that say they have already developed the vaccine and are ready with production, biotech scientists are skeptical about the process or the kind of clinical trials that were conducted. Russia, for example, is claiming that it will be the first to approve a vaccine by the second week of August but doubts linger – no data has been published and Phase 3 trials have yet to be conducted.

Here in the United States, we have been carefully following the developments as well as the protocols and clinical trials they have been conducting. So many credible worldwide biotech scientists are certain that they are on track. Dr. Anthony Fauci – the most credible infectious diseases US doctor – together with Dr. Deborah Birx, both of whom we met early on in Washington, are both “cautiously optimistic” that these vaccines will surely work.

This horrific pandemic has really upended the world and changed the way we all live. More than ever, countries should work together instead of trying to hack or steal information on COVID-19 vaccines research – because, as one doctor said, “incomplete bioscientific information is more dangerous than the virus itself. It could even lead to death.”

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