WHO: Countries need to diversify vaccine portfolio

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN): In the past week, Filipinos got worried about the government’s ability to secure an initial supply of the Covid-19 vaccine amid news that neighbouring countries were bagging up deals while officials at home were consumed with pointing fingers over a failed effort to lock in an early shipment from one of the leading manufacturers.

Allegations of favoritism were also cast, especially as the government turned to pharmaceutical companies that had yet to release data on their candidate vaccines or were still concluding their clinical trials.

The World Health Organization (WHO), however, pointed out that because of a limited supply of the vaccine next year, the public must understand that what countries are doing now is diversifying their portfolio to ensure that priority sectors, such as medical front-liners, will be protected against the new coronavirus.

“Because of the supply situation, most countries are likely going to have to use more than one product. We do need multiple products in the marketplace ... and getting that supply security is really important, ” said Kate O’Brien, the WHO’s director for immunisation, vaccines, and biologicals.

Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, cautioned against pitting governments against each other at this point of the pandemic and comparing their approaches to getting their population the needed vaccine.

“I don’t think we should be seeing this as a game of winners and losers right now. We’re at the beginning, ” Ryan told reporters in a briefing at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

“It could be very destructive for us all to turn this into some kind of nationalistic footrace to who does what. We all have to get there together. We simply have to finish this race in a line together. And someone getting there first doesn’t necessarily help everybody else, ” he added.

In selecting a vaccine, governments are weighing not just the safety and efficacy profile of a candidate shot but also its price, the production capacity, as well as the logistics needed for its deployment, Ryan said.

“We’re all just to have to be a little bit patient and a little bit tolerant that things are going to move at slightly different paces in different situations and we don’t politicize this, ” he said.

“We need to move forward in solidarity to find these solutions. Science has delivered, now we need solidarity to deliver the ultimate solution, which is to stop this virus from transmitting and killing the people we love, ” he added.

Under the Philippines’ vaccine procurement plan, Science Undersecretary Rowena Cristina Guevara said the target was for the country to secure at least one candidate vaccine from each of the five vaccine platforms.

Acquiring these vaccines can either be through the clinical trial route or through direct purchase.

Guevara explained that each platform has varying potential benefits to the public and that the decision is driven by the reality that supply may not be able to keep up with the demand.

“If you look at the availability of all vaccines ready for 2021, it’s not enough for the world population so we have to prioritize. To that effect we need to make sure we can get as many vaccines from all the types of platforms, ” she said.

Health officials earlier assured the public that regardless of who manufactures the vaccine, it would be subjected to the regulatory process to ensure that it is safe and effective.

Currently, only the vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna/US National Institutes of Health have been rolled out for limited distribution.

Both vaccines use the mRNA (messenger RNA) platform and are found to have an efficacy rate of at most 95 per cent.

Other Covid-19 vaccine platforms include recombinant protein (used by Novovax and Anhui Zhifei Biopharmaceuticals), viral vector (Oxford/AstraZeneca, Gamaleya, and Johnson&Johnson), and inactivated (Sinovac and Sinopharm).

Even with the development of vaccines and an end to the pandemic in sight, the WHO cautioned people against letting their guard down.

In the Philippines, daily new infections have been ranging from at least 1,000 to more than 2,000 since the start of the Christmas rush.

On Sunday, the Department of Health (DOH) logged 1,754 additional coronavirus infections, raising the overall number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country to 459,789.

Quezon City recorded the most number of new cases, 163, followed by Rizal province (104), Benguet and Laguna (83), and Bulacan (61).

The DOH reported that 8,080 patients had recovered after completing 14 days of quarantine, bringing the total number of Covid-19 survivors to 429,134. But the death toll rose to 8,947 with the deaths of 36 more patients.

The deaths and recoveries left the country with 21,708 active cases, of which 81.3 per cent were mild, 8.7 per cent asymptomatic, 0.37 per cent moderate, 3.2 per cent severe, and 6.4 per cent critical. - Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

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