EDITORIAL - Emergency approval

EDITORIAL - Emergency approval

(The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2020 - 12:00am

Aware of the regulatory constraints faced by the government, the private sector has pitched in and worked out an initial procurement of 2.5 million doses of the COVID vaccine developed by British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca together with the University of Oxford.

With two doses needed per person, this means over 1.2 million people, starting with health frontliners, will get the vaccine. The government has said negotiations are also underway for other vaccines developed by US companies Pfizer and Moderna as well as pharmaceutical firms in China and Russia, where voluntary inoculations have reportedly started using locally developed vaccines.

Amid the public health emergency, President Duterte has allowed the advance procurement of vaccines even at their development stage, and has ordered the Food and Drug Administration to issue emergency use authorization for the speedy rollout of the vaccines upon arrival in the Philippines. Considering the track record of the FDA in the approval process, the biggest question is when the vaccines can become available.

Government regulators need a greater sense of urgency in this pandemic. The Philippine Red Cross, for example, is still waiting for approval from the Department of Health for saliva test kits, whose widespread use could help revive the tourism and travel industry in particular.

With the President’s order for emergency use authorization, the FDA said yesterday that it could approve a COVID vaccine by January next year and these could arrive by March. This is an advanced timetable from the previous best-scenario projection of arrival of the vaccine in June or July.

As of yesterday, the COVID-19 pandemic had claimed 8,446 lives and infected 435,413 people in the Philippines, and pushed the economy to an unprecedented devastating recession. Every month that the pandemic is prolonged and quarantine measures are imposed to contain virus transmission means more deaths, illnesses, and lost jobs and livelihoods. While there are risks in rushing the approval of a vaccine, these must be balanced with the consequences of waiting too long to start vaccination.

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