How to fast track COVID vaccinations

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - January 12, 2021 - 12:00am

Now that the COVID-19 vaccines are available, the objective is to vaccinate as many as 70% of the world population to achieve “herd immunity”. Given the current world population of 7.4 billion, this means five million people be vaccinated at the soonest possible time. In the first week of January, Pzifer’s production of the vaccine was at 10 million a week, increasing to 20 million and will have one billion available in one year. Other manufacturers will most probably have their vaccines approved and available starting April 2021, so by July to November, there will be five billion vaccines available for injections. The supply issue currently experienced is temporary. Pharma companies, aware of the social and economic necessity of the vaccines, will deliver the needed volume in the shortest time. Biotechnology is available, so it’s a matter of setting up or reconfiguring production facilities to produce vaccines at desired volumes. The next issue is the logistical delivery/distribution of the vaccine and the physical injection.

The urgency of deploying and injecting vaccines has now taken more economic than medical reasons. While people are still dying at 2% of the infected, the economic impact is worse in terms of shrinking economies, unemployment, poverty, and political destabilization. The world and the individual national economies have to recover to prevent a humanitarian disaster in terms of hunger and death from other causes aside from COVID. The creeping economic recovery envisioned in 2021 can only be sustained and developed into a strong recovery in 2022, with the vaccinations of at least four billion of the world’s population.

As of first week of January, the US and worldwide vaccination rate was at 25% of the available vaccines, five million vaccinated with 20 million vaccines available, 2.5 million in the US with 10 million available vaccines. This will ramp up to 1 million per day starting February so that by end August more than 200 million or 70% of Americans will be vaccinated. Smaller developed countries in the world like Singapore, UAE, Qatar, New Zealand, and others will also have achieved this threshold. Then Europe, Russia, China, and the rest other developing countries will follow by third quarter of 2022.

The Philippine vaccination program doesn’t inspire confidence. The government is projecting to achieve the 70% immunization by third quarter of 2022. This will be very dire for our economy that has shrunk by 10% in 2020 and is expected to grow only by 6% in 2021. We must have 55 million or 50% of Filipinos vaccinated by August 2021, if we want to recover from the massive economic deterioration of 2020. We have to disprove the economist’s projection that the Philippines will be among the last to recover, together with India.

The way to fast track vaccination here is to let private sector or businesses purchase and distribute vaccines, allow all hospitals and clinics to inject. As long as the vaccines are accredited by the FDAs of the origin countries and WHO, the local FDA should approve as fast as possible and allow the importation of vaccines. There’s no need to have an elaborate logistics/supply chain system as these are already available in the private sector. The profit incentive will make sure vaccines will be procured and delivered. The competing brands and prices of the vaccines will also ensure people will get the most cost-effective vaccines. This is why we can get our flu and pneumonia shots annually at less than P2,000. The government budget for the vaccines of P70 billion, and some local governments budget will cover at most 35 million Filipinos, so allowing the private sector to procure vaccines to be sold to those who can afford to pay will save the government P70 billion.

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