Made in the Philippines
There is understandable excitement over the looming rollout of COVID-19 vaccines before the year is over. American frontliners will get the first doses of the vaccines developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German partner BioNTech as well as US biotechnology firm Moderna. Amid preparations for the leadership change in January, US authorities are also deep in preparations for the widespread emergency use of the vaccines across the United States.
In the Philippines, a team is working on preparations for the transport, storage and administration of whatever vaccines the government can procure from abroad. The US vaccines need below-zero cold storage facilities, with the Pfizer product – touted to be 95 percent effective – requiring a super-cold negative 70 degrees Celsius.
President Duterte has approved advance funding commitments to reserve vaccines for the Philippines, amid the global scramble to be ahead of the line. The country is participating in the vaccine solidarity trials of the World Health Organization, and is also joining the Gavi COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access or COVAX facility, for a rapid, fair and equitable global access to the vaccines.
Beyond waiting for vaccines to reach the Philippines – a process that could take a few more months even with emergency authorization – the government should provide support to the creation of a Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines. A bill has been filed in Congress for the creation of the institute.
Under the proposed measure, the Department of Science and Technology will get P284 million in funding next year to start the institute’s research, initially focusing not only on coronaviruses but also on the pathogens causing African swine flu that continues to ravage the local hog industry as well as the ZIKA virus and the coconut kadang-kadang.
The country has world-class scientists, but sufficient funding and other resources are needed for research and development. With so many viruses causing potentially deadly illnesses in the country, among them dengue and chikungunya, setting up a virology center is a good investment in public health. Other countries are developing their own vaccines. The Philippines has the best minds who can do the same, improving public access to vaccines. We need not always wait in a long line for vaccines made in other countries to end a public health crisis.