‘Let’s not cry over spilled milk’

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - December 20, 2020 - 12:00am

With recent controversies surrounding the Pfizer vaccine, I think it’s time for us to move on and “not cry over spilled milk.” We will still have access to the Pfizer vaccine – considered the gold standard – next year, with a few months’ delay. In hindsight, maybe I should share the blame. I should have called Secretary Duque directly to inform him about the urgency of the matter at hand. Pinggoy Duque used to work with my late brother, Dr. Quasi Romualdez, at the Department of Health.

The other night, we coordinated another phone call between Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin and US State Secretary Mike Pompeo and included in the talking points the supply of vaccines for our country. Secretary Locsin and Secretary Pompeo like each other and enjoy their conversations, which only proves that diplomacy is indeed all about good personal relationships. Secretary Pompeo promised to assist us in making sure we get our supply of vaccines at the soonest possible time.

Pfizer’s vaccines will be available around June next year since the first batch has already been committed to other countries, but our friends in Washington have assured us that there are three or four more vaccine candidates that are going to be approved soon. Among them is the vaccine being developed by biotechnology company Moderna, which has received the green light from a panel of experts from the US Food and Drug Administration to obtain an emergency use authorization (EUA), with the rollout possibly starting in the next few days. Like the vaccine from Pfizer, Moderna’s candidate vaccine is also based on a technology that makes use of genetic material known as messenger RNA or mRNA.

We are hopeful that the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) will consider the promising vaccine candidates from Moderna and Arcturus Therapeutics for inclusion in our country’s pool of COVID-19 vaccines. Both companies could potentially supply the Philippines anywhere from four to 25 million doses starting in the second half of next year or even earlier. Arcturus is a biotech firm based in California, and its candidate vaccine also uses mRNA technology like Pfizer and Moderna. Based on the experiments, the vaccine has shown very promising results with just a single dose.

Definitely, more supplies from other US vaccine developers will be made available globally next year. FedEx, which is a primary logistics partner of these developers, will most likely be transporting the vaccines to Asian countries through Clark Airport where it has a big hub – so it really makes sense for us to order these vaccines since Clark will become a major distribution point to the Asian market.

The global race to produce safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in record time continues, with close to a hundred candidates undergoing clinical trials in various stages, 18 of them having reached the final stages of testing.

No doubt the World Health Organization is going to play a major role in making sure that many countries will be able to receive vaccine supplies. COVAX, or the COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Plan co-led by the WHO, Gavi (The Vaccine Alliance) and CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) have been working hard in order for poorer economies to have access to safe and effective vaccines. COVAX recently announced that deals are already in place for nearly two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines that will be made available for the 92 countries that are eligible under the Gavi COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), a financial mechanism that would enable the poorest countries to gain access to the COVID-19 vaccines. Plans are now also underway for the rollout to begin in the first quarter of 2021 depending on the regulatory approvals and the readiness of a country for delivery.

It will take time, however, to immunize the whole world, or to at least have 60 percent of the global population vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity or herd protection. Herd immunity is achieved when most of the population is rendered immune to an infectious disease, mitigating the further spread of the disease and thereby providing indirect protection to those who are not immune.

Another good news on the horizon is the issuance of an emergency use authorization by the US FDA for the first ever, over-the-counter at-home diagnostic test for COVID-19. We are recommending this home tester developed by Australian digital diagnostics company Ellume which can be purchased at drug stores without need for a prescription. Most of all, the test results can be obtained fast with no need to send samples to a laboratory because a smartphone app can deliver the results in just 20 minutes.

The Ellume COVID-19 Home Test is an antigen test that works by using a “mid-turbinate” nasal swab to detect fragments of the coronavirus proteins. The swab is then placed in a Bluetooth-connected analyzer that transmits the results to the software app installed in the user’s smartphone.

The FDA said that the Ellume tests correctly identified 96 percent of positive samples and 100 percent of negative samples. The test uses groundbreaking core technology that combines ultra-sensitive optics, electronics and proprietary software to deliver rapid and accurate results. We will still need testing even with the availability of vaccines. This home testing kit is fast, affordable and easy to use, and will help us manage the spread of COVID-19.

While we continue to practice all safety protocols, we should all try to enjoy the Christmas holidays even during these difficult times, taking comfort in the fact that soon the lifesaving vaccines will be coming to our shores.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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