Time to Plan and Prepare for Immunization
The Covid-19 vaccine will soon arrive and alleviate our anxiety. Its distribution will require massive logistics and the Philippines must prepare for this eventuality to make sure our people have safe, fast and equitable access to the vaccines.
A number of vaccine candidates are advancing through the Phase 3 clinical trials, and many believe one or two vaccines may be available as early as the fourth quarter of 2020. As all countries look forward to getting their hands on such vaccines, the United Nations Children’s Fund said it could be the world’s largest and fastest operation ever.
The government is allocating P2.5 billion out of the 2021 national government budget to procure Covid-19 vaccines, mostly for poor Filipinos. The government’s target is to fund the immunization of 3.8 million Filipinos, which will make a big difference in containing the spread of the virus.
Of course, we expect higher-income Filipinos to pay for their vaccines and some companies and non-government organizations to subsidize the cost of the vaccine doses for their employees.
We should support the government in preparing for the eventual commercial availability of effective vaccines. The procurement needs months of preparation, and funding and planning are the first steps in making sure our people will receive the doses as soon as possible.
The International Air Transport Association, a group of airline operators, advises countries to begin careful planning to ensure full preparedness when the vaccines are approved and available for distribution.
IATA Director-General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said safely delivering Covid-19 vaccines will be the mission of the century for the global air cargo industry and it won’t happen without careful advance planning. “And the time for that is now. We urge governments to take the lead in facilitating cooperation across the logistics chain so that the facilities, security arrangements and border processes are ready for the mammoth and complex task ahead,” he said.
The Vaccine Alliance also believes delivering billions of doses of vaccines to all countries efficiently will involve hugely complex logistical and programmatic obstacles all the way along the supply chain. It said this would require coordination among governments, vaccine manufacturers and logistical partners to ensure an efficient global rollout of a safe and affordable vaccine.
Although the decrease in the number of new coronavirus infections in the Philippines in recent days points to the flattening of the Covid-19 curve, what will contain the transmission is the availability of vaccines. A group of experts from the University of the Philippines was quoted as saying that the curve may have already flattened in September, based on the virus reproduction rate of less than 1.
If the reproduction rate stays below 1 such as 0.9, the doubling of active cases would take longer and the spread of the virus will be contained more effectively. This means the government efforts, guided by the best interest of public health and crucial data provided by medical science, paid off, according to President Duterte.
Data from the Department of Health show while there were 251,964 cumulative cases as of September 11, 2020, only 62,250 were active cases. Our health authorities should focus on monitoring the number to make sure it does not go up rapidly. To achieve this, the number of recoveries should exceed the figure on new infections. This is easier said than done, but we should make our best efforts to address the crisis.
As far as the Department of Health is concerned, the critical care utilization rate is more important, as it represents the capacity of hospitals to accommodate new patients. In July, most private hospitals turned away new Covid-19 patients because their beds in critical care were already occupied.
Following the strict health protocols in August, the situation improved moderately and provided hospitals more space to handle new cases. Hopefully, the flattening of the curve would result in a decrease in critical care utilization rate for virus patients from the current 46 percent to a manageable 30 percent and below.
What made up for the shortage of hospital beds is the construction of quarantine facilities all over the country. The Department of Public Works and Highways led by Secretary Mark Villar has built and continues to set up more quarantine facilities to support the government’s efforts in containing the virus spread.
The DPWH Task Force to Facilitate Augmentation of National and Local Health Facilities is in charge of constructing health system facilities to decongest hospitals. The department is building 602 Covid-19 facilities with a total capacity of 23,000 beds nationwide. Of the total, 340 have been completed as of the first week of September, while another 262 are expected to be finished within the next two months.
The use of face shields on top of face masks, meanwhile, may have helped reduce the transmission rate. It is one effective protocol that companies and local government units may find useful, instead of a lockdown, at least until a vaccine becomes available.
Over 100 Covid-19 vaccines are in development this year, and the World Health Organization expects that 2 billion doses of the vaccine will be made available by 2021. President Duterte prefers a less expensive vaccine once it becomes available. The Philippines is already in talks with Gamaleya Institute of Russia for the possible reproduction of Sputnik V vaccine.
Among the companies that are in the advanced stage of clinical trials for their vaccine candidates are Moderna Therapeutics and Pfizer of the US, Sinovac of China, and CSL Limited of Australia. “Whoever makes it first and gives it to us cheap, that’s where we’ll go. They know that we don’t have enough money. If it’s too expensive, we will go for the less expensive ones,” President Duterte was quoted as saying earlier.
As we begin to see a flattening of Covid-19 curve and prepare for a massive immunization program next year, we should also look at healing our economy to preserve jobs and prevent more people from falling below the poverty threshold.
The National Economic and Development Authority noted that prior to the health crisis, the Philippines was in a position to become an upper-middle-income country in 2020, supported by low inflation and strong fiscal position, as recognized by international credit rating agencies, which gave us investment-grade credit scores of BBB+ to A-.
With the easing of quarantine restrictions in June, the economy began to see a gradual recovery. Acting Neda Director-General Kendrick Chua said based on what took place in the last six months, the lower quarantine restriction actually opened more sectors of the economy and helped bring back jobs.
The level of quarantine restrictions clearly has a significant impact on the economy. I believe that while we should remain on our toes against the spread of Covid-19, we should keep the economy operational and allow Filipinos to keep their jobs and provide for their families. We should now focus on rebuilding the economy while keeping our families protected.