The world needs 3.5 billion vaccine doses today, not tomorrow

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez - The Philippine Star

More than nuclear proliferation, territorial disputes, trade imbalance between economic giants and all other issues that can be controlled by man, what all nations should be concentrating on with a greater sense of urgency is the “state of war” the world is in – battling an enemy that cannot be seen which continues to ravage the world, a virus that seems to continue mutating into variants every single day.

While the United States has made significant headway in its vaccination rollout, with 130 million shots having been administered and 14 percent of the population already fully vaccinated, the administration of President Joe Biden needs to start looking ahead and take the lead in putting into motion a worldwide summit on how to end this “war.” Major countries like China, Russia, India, Great Britain and Germany that have the capacity to manufacture effective vaccines should band together to produce 3.5 billion doses as quickly as possible.

Scientists have already declared that at least 70 percent of the global population needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Which is why during our scheduled meeting tomorrow with White House advisers and my fellow ASEAN ambassadors in Washington, we plan to urge the United States in leading the world on how to put together the urgent need for 3.5 billion doses. Time is of the essence.

Reports about recurring high cases of infections with increasing number of deaths in many countries have been alarming, to say the least. A clear example is Brazil with over 12.3 million cases of infection and close to 300,000 deaths recorded. Last Thursday, Brazil saw a record number of new cases of infection in one day at over 100,000 and over 3,200 deaths in a single day, ushering in a second wave described as worse than the first. Even more worrisome for medical authorities is the increasing number of young people getting severely ill and dying from COVID-19.

Scientists have also noted new, more dangerous variants of the virus with multiple mutations. In a genome sequencing done to a patient who has been hospitalized for two months, it was discovered that he has been hosting at least six different coronavirus variants. The more variants, the less effective the vaccines will be.

India has also been badly hit, with close to 12 million cases of infection, making it the third highest after the US and Brazil. India has been seeing a significant spike in infections, with over 60,000 new cases reported last Friday – making it the highest single-day rise since last October. What’s even more worrisome is the possible emergence of a “double mutant” variant – meaning two mutations coming together in the same variant – that could be more infectious or less susceptible to vaccines.

The record spike in infections has also resulted in the decision of India to temporarily stop major exportation of the AstraZeneca vaccines made by the Serum Institute of India – the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer – until the situation in India stabilizes. Obviously, the authorities want to ensure that domestic demand for the vaccines is met first before allowing the vaccines to be exported to other countries such as the UK, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Naturally, this development would also impact the supply of vaccines through the COVAX Facility that many countries are also relying on for their vaccination programs.

The shortage in the supply of vaccines is really a dilemma that countries are facing. Vietnam for example is also having supply issues, which is why it is looking at other sources for the vaccines such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Sinovac and Sputnik V. While Vietnam is set to produce its own vaccine, pharmaceutical companies are still in the research and trial stages.

With the US set to achieve its goal of making every American adult eligible for vaccination by May 1, vaccine doses will hopefully be more available to the rest of the world. The US, after all, has the largest manufacturing capacity and capability. For our part, we are pushing for US authorities to allow an earlier delivery for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines that we ordered.

As my ASEAN diplomatic colleagues said during our internal meetings, we need those vaccines today – not tomorrow – and the plan to have one billion vaccines available by 2022 may be too late. Obviously, nations that do not have the capacity to manufacture their own vaccines have no choice but to wait for their turn at delivery, which is why we are calling on countries that have developed – or are still developing – vaccines to share their science and their technology perhaps through licensing agreements.

It should no longer be about money; it’s about saving mankind. No matter what the ideologies of these nations are – US, China, Russia, India, even the European Union – that have the capacity to ramp up vaccine production, they all must collaborate and come up with the 3.5 billion vaccine doses needed urgently because the virus keeps on mutating. We all know it would likely take years to completely eradicate this deadly virus.

Time is not on our side – the whole world has to get its act together to deal with this deadly pandemic. They must pool their resources, set aside geopolitical issues for now and stop the blaming and finger pointing. As one Fil-American doctor put it succinctly with characteristic Filipino wry humor: “We should focus on staying alive first and getting the vaccines. Otherwise, there will be no one left to play the blame game. We’ll all be dead.”

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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