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Vax boost, eco boost

The Asia-Pacific region’s Covid-19 containment response was a relative global outperformer in 2020, but in 2021 its vaccine rollout has in aggregate lagged that of other regions, apart from Africa

Komfie Manalo

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The acceleration of vaccine rollouts in parts of Asia could ease the risk of setbacks to economic recoveries, international debt watcher Fitch Rating said as it expressed optimism of a sustained vaccination initiative.

Cited by the National Task Force Against Covid-19 were data from the National Vaccination Operations Center (NVOC) showing that as of 8 June, a total of 6,314,548 vaccine doses have been administered across the country since the start of the national vaccination program last March.

Another 2.2 million vials of Sinovac vaccines were also received by the government on Thursday morning.

“The Asia-Pacific region’s Covid-19-containment response was a relative global outperformer in 2020, but in 2021 its vaccine rollout has in aggregate lagged that of other regions, apart from Africa,” Fitch said. “The number of doses delivered relative to total populations remains low, compared with the US and with that necessary to achieve ‘herd immunity.’”

Fitch offered various reasons for the inconsistent vaccination programs. Some jurisdictions that had done well in containing the virus were slow to move on vaccine approvals and rollouts. Others have had difficulty procuring vaccine supplies, particularly where authorities did not prioritize procurement at an early stage.

An independent study by charity group Oxfam has found less than 10 percent of Asia’s 4.561 billion population have been vaccinated, pointing to efforts by Western countries to block supplies.
Oxfam cited new calculations from the People’s Vaccine, which said that people in countries were 77 times more likely to be offered a vaccine than those living in the world’s poorest countries.

Vaccine acceleration

However, Fitch noted that the pace of vaccination has accelerated in recent weeks in several Fitch-rated sovereigns in Asia, including China, South Korea, Japan and Australia.

Vaccination rates remain very low in many other Fitch-rated Asian sovereigns, which could leave them exposed to pandemic setback risks.

These were highlighted by an escalation of Covid-19 infections in several locations in April-May. Governments in India, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam all tightened restrictions on activity in response to new infections. There have also been recent outbreaks, albeit relatively small in terms of case numbers, in China’s Guangdong province and the Australian state of Victoria.

Vietnam, which previously was a model for pandemic containment in the Asia-Pacific region, has vaccinated only 1.28 percent out of every 100 people as of 5 June. Taiwan inoculated 2.94 per 100 of its citizens during the same period, the Philippines faring better at 5.44.

The low rates of vaccination and outbreaks of new infections pose near-term downside risks to our economic growth forecasts and could delay recoveries from the pandemic shock of 2020. However, relatively narrow lockdown applications, coupled with societal and business behavior adjustments, should help cushion the economic impact.

Weaker economic outlooks may add to pressures on public finances, particularly where governments seek to offset the adverse effects of restrictions on the economy and households through fiscal stimulus packages.

Philippine plan

According to Covid-19 Chief Implementer and Vaccine Czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., a total of 11,058,000 doses are expected to arrive this June wherein government-procured 5.5 million will come from Sinovac, a million of Sputnik V, 250,000 doses from Moderna, and 2,280,000 of Pfizer-BioNTech and 2,028,000 of AstraZeneca from the COVAX facility.

Aside from the 11 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines that will arrive this month, the country is also expecting another 11 million doses in July and 17 million doses in August.

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