A lot sees the New Year with big hopes.
Not a few are praying that the coronavirus that greeted the world this year with a swath of the scythe that has so far killed 1.45 million of the 62.3 million people infected of COVID-19 worldwide would go away with the change-of-year fireworks.
It’s not like that, however.
The scenario remains grim even with the promise of vaccines to come out from various pharmaceutical companies, which are now close to releasing their doses for international distribution very soon.
That “very soon” is a count of days and months — a crawling, uncertain wait until the first batch of the vaccines comes ashore.
They would hit land by May, but the batch could be a mere 2.6 million shots of a potential COVID-19 vaccine if British–Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca beats everyone else in shipping the doses to the Philippines.
AstraZeneca is the first company with which the country made its first supply deal. But it’s not the government which sealed it. The private sector expectedly beat the government in the purchase of the vaccine, which is yet approved by the country’s drug experts.
The deal aims to inoculate just over a million Filipinos as the vaccine requires two doses per person.
That’s just nearly one percent of the Philippine population.
Jose Concepcion, a government business adviser representing the private sector, and Carlito Galvez, the government’s vaccine czar, are also still in the process of acquiring a million doses more to cover another 500,000 of the population.
They are not much, but they mean much.
AstraZeneca is one of five vaccine makers that have applied to hold late-stage trials in the Philippines.
The supply deal, however, comes amid questions over the results of one such study elsewhere as scientists raised doubts about the robustness of its results that showed it was “only” 90 percent effective.
Concepcion admitted that the private sector is “desperate,” thus the purchase. Being “desperate” is a big word, but it is what it is.
Business has long been putting pressure on the government to order a restart as nearly nine months of quarantine restrictions have hurt the sector.
“We want an end to this nightmare. We are willing to take this risk,” Concepcion said. He sees an urgent need to reopen the economy further.
The Philippines was among Asia’s fastest growing before the pandemic. Its $370-billion economy, however, fell deep into recession in the third quarter after curbs aimed at stopping the region’s widest spread rate have thrown the economy off track.
Big businessmen and industry group leaders will donate half of these 2.6 million doses to the government, Concepcion assured. The rest will be given to their own employees. That could mean balance in their eyes.
Galvez does not want to lose hope that the pharma companies closer to rolling out their vaccines would put the Philippines among their priority countries.
President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the allocation of P73.2 billion in borrowed funds to purchase anti-COVID vaccines.
Galvez, however, could only cross his fingers that the Philippines’ own vaccine rollout would happen earlier than the second half of next year.
The most “realistic” he said would be in the third quarter of 2021. That is still a very long wait.
Galvez announced that the government is aiming to inoculate some 60 percent of the country’s 108 million population. Health officials said 60 to 70 percent of Filipinos vaccinated against the virus would result in a herd immunity.
Still, the government and the private sector can only afford to administer the vaccine to a third of this target number each year.
The “realistic” calculation is the vaccine program could be completed in three years.
So, we hold the celebrations yet.
Let’s accept that it’s not just a year that we’ve lost to the virus. We’ll sacrifice a couple more of them.
But what the heck! Generations before us have fought longer wars.
This is just a blip. A long and deadly but beatable blip.