The state of vaccines

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - March 18, 2021 - 12:00am

The COVID-19 spread throughout the world was faster than was anticipated, and every country in the world was unprepared. In most countries, the recovery from this pandemic was actually a political failure.

For example, the United States had a president, Donald Trump, who for some bizarre reason refused to publicly acknowledge the extreme danger the pandemic posed for his country and just kept repeating that it will go away. With a new president, Joe Biden, the USA is leading the way in combating the pandemic.

The only solution to the pandemic is vaccination. Fortunately, scientists were able to invent and drug companies produced the vaccines in a period of one year. This is a historical record.

According to Airinfinity, an analytics company, 378 COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of development. The first three that were approved by Western regulatory bodies were Pfizer, Moderna in the USA and AstraZeneca in Europe. Two more have been approved – Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. There is a vaccine from China, Sinovac, which has been approved in several countries. There is a Russian vaccine, Sputnik, which is said to be a promising one.

Novavax is manufactured by an American company and its facilities are located in Baltimore, UK and India. There is a report that the Philippines has ordered 30 million doses of Novavax.

Last February, the principal vaccine makers are reported by the Economist to have signed contracts to deliver 7.9 billion doses this year, and say they have the capacity for 4.3 billion doses more. However, only a fraction of these have actually been produced. Manufacturing delays are likely and, even after leaving the factory, getting them into people’s arms can take months. The problem is in the logistical requirements for transporting the vaccines to countries all over the world. Then there are the logistics and storage facilities needed in actual territory where they are needed. Finally there are the medical supplies like syringes that need to be distributed and the need for trained personnel to perform the actual injection.

In the Philippines, in Metro Manila and selected urban centers, there may be enough nurses and doctors; but in most provincial areas, the lack of trained and qualified medical personnel has always been a problem. Filipina nurses are praised for their work in almost all developed countries in the world. In their homeland, Filipina nurses are underpaid and overworked. That is why we have thousands of them leaving every year.

In theory, vaccine makers should be able to produce the necessary two shots for each of the world’s 5.8 billion adults by the end of 2021. However, very few public health experts  are willing to predict this.

Another reason for this expected shortage is these jabs will not be distributed equally. According to the Economist, the 54 richest countries account for 18 percent of adults on earth, but 40 percent of vaccine orders come from these countries. Canada, for example, has ordered 11 doses per adult. The world’s biggest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India, plans to save half of its output for local use in India.

Many other developing countries will have to rely on COVAX, a global non-profit coalition to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. Its goal is to provide at least 1.8 billion doses to 92 poor and middle income countries this year. This was organized, but the United States joined only this year under President Biden. The US is now the biggest donor with a pledged amount of $2 billion. Unfortunately, China and Russia have refused to join this coalition.

Another obstacle to an organized global vaccination is the uneven reputation of some of the major vaccines. The European Union has banned the use of AstraZeneca, a British vaccine, with claims that it has serious side effects. The British government, however, have said that 17 million in the UK have been administered the AstraZeneca vaccine and there have been no signs of any resulting side effects. I have talked to some doctors and nurses who have taken AstraZeneca and some have claimed that there was some side effect, like fevers; but this lasted only one or two days.

There are some people who refuse to be vaccinated, and these are not limited to those with little education. So while most people are eager for ways to find a vaccine, there are these people who will sit on the sidelines waiting for whatever horrors they think will be caused by vaccination. As more people are vaccinated and the rules like masking are removed, this refusal could cause many lives. Those who have not been vaccinated will become more vulnerable to infections as governments start trying to return to normal.

The travel industry was, perhaps, the hardest hit sector during the pandemic. The past decades have been very good for this industry. In 1950, only 25 million people took a trip abroad, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. By 2019, the number of trips had grown to 1.5 billion. Most international travelers used the plane. Even in Europe around 60 percent used planes. In the Philippines, almost 100 percent of overseas travel is by airplane.

The debate now is whether air travel will return to pre-pandemic conditions. The consensus seems to be that within two years, tourism will return to its previous numbers.

Business travel is another issue.

Bill Gates says: “My prediction is that over 50 percent of business travel will go away.” Zoom, Google hangouts, Skype and other video conferencing services may replace business class tickets in many instances.

As we slowly and painfully finally defeat this virus, it is important to remember that we should be ready for the next pandemic, and the world will never be the same as the pre-pandemic days.

*      *      *

An invitation for writers of all ages: The Adult series begins on March 20 with Danton Remoto on “Autobiography as Fiction” 2-3:30 pm.

Young Writers’ Hangout via Zoom on March 27, 2-3 p.m. with Divine Gil Reyes.

Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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