More US-made vaccines coming

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

The other day, I spoke to Secretary Charlie Galvez and we were both pleased that some 10 to 15 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna will be arriving in Manila in the coming weeks.

The bulk of the 20 million Moderna doses we ordered should be arriving in the fourth quarter as the allocation for the Philippines has been increased, although Moderna has been experiencing some difficulties lately in delivery schedules. We are working closely with them in coordination with the US government to ensure our supply of vaccines come sooner than later.

The upcoming deliveries of these US-made vaccines, along with those from other manufacturers, will help bump up our vaccination program which is steadily gaining traction – with an average of 3 million jabs per week. A total of 39 million vaccine doses have so far been administered, with 22 million Filipinos having received at least one dose while 17 million have been fully vaccinated. In Metro Manila, over 62 percent of the target population has been fully vaccinated.

The WHO and scientists have warned about the eventuality of the coronavirus becoming endemic – meaning it will become a constant presence and may never go away, much like the cold virus. A continuing concern is that the coronavirus, like most viruses, has the capability to constantly mutate, with some strains having more “immune evasion” characteristics like the Delta variant that has driven new surges in many parts of the world as it is more transmissible than the original strain. Several studies also show that the protection afforded by vaccines may become less effective against the Delta variant over time, making people vulnerable to “breakthrough infections.”

But the good news is that mRNA (messenger RNA) technology has revolutionized the way vaccines are made. I spoke with our friends from the pharmaceutical industry who said mRNA is a “game changing” platform that opens up the possibility of a single vaccine providing protection against several diseases. It has proven to be extremely effective against the coronavirus.

One great advantage of mRNA over traditional methods is the speed of production and turnaround time. The vaccine can be “ready within weeks of the identification of the genome of the target pathogen and synthesized in the laboratory in minutes, a desirable characteristic during an outbreak of a communicable disease,” wrote Rutgers University clinical professor Mary Barna Bridgeman.

Aside from COVID-19 vaccines, mRNA shows promise in the development of therapies and vaccines for other diseases such as malaria, flu, Zika, rabies and especially cancer, with most cancer vaccine clinical trials targeting melanoma and kidney cancers.

According to a market study published by Global Industry Analysts involving 96 companies from various parts of the world that are engaged in mRNA technology, “mRNA based COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer stand out as frontrunners” – citing the speed and the efficacy (95 percent) these vaccines demonstrated in eliciting immune response against the coronavirus during clinical trials.

While there are concerns about vaccine-induced protection waning after some time, as well as the emergence of new variants that could “evade protection” or become “vaccine-resistant,” both Pfizer and Moderna said they could quickly develop a booster to combat any new variants. With mRNA technology, they can speedily tweak a current vaccine to target a new strain – much like the way cellphone models are upgraded with software downloads to be responsive to the emerging changes and needs of users.

Pfizer CEO Alfred Bourla had confidently stated that within 95 days after the identification of a “variant of concern,” they could develop a vaccine that is “tailor-made” against the variant. Moderna is also speeding up the development of a single dose combination booster that can protect against COVID-19 and flu.

The fact is, we have to accept the reality that COVID-19 will be around for a long time. And with the coronavirus becoming endemic, the fastest way we can go back to a “normal” way of life is through vaccination.

France for instance is resorting to “Macronian” measures in rolling out its vaccination program, requiring health care workers and carers to get fully vaccinated or face losing their jobs. President Macron imposed a “vaccine passport” requirement before people are allowed to dine in restaurants, visit theaters or board trains, planes or buses. If they are not vaccinated, they have to show a recent negative COVID-19 test which they have to pay for on their own.

These Macronian measures are working because people scrambled to get themselves vaccinated, with 83 percent of the population above the age of 12 having received at least one dose. The number of protesters is also waning, with infections, ICU hospitalizations and deaths dropping significantly. Great Britain and Spain are almost completely back to normal with mask wearing as optional. What we see in most of these countries is what we will see in our country once we achieve herd immunity. Just a little more patience and we will definitely get there.

President Biden is calling for a virtual vaccine summit, urging nations that can to donate additional vaccine doses worldwide. World leaders should consider doing so to speedily vaccinate 70 percent of the global population within a year.

The Philippines will definitely reach its herd immunity target early next year, with the private sector rolling out vaccination programs to bring people back to work and speed up the country’s economic recovery.

Our continuing effort to get ample supply of vaccines and moving as fast as we can in vaccinating our people will soon bear fruit. As they say in Tagalog, “May katapusan rin ‘yan.”

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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