There are many lessons to be learned from this unprecedented pandemic, and one of them is the importance of timely access to vaccines. It’s no coincidence that two of the countries now nearing full herd immunity against COVID-19 are not only among the wealthiest, but also the home of the world’s top vaccine makers: the United States and the United Kingdom.
Pfizer and Moderna are based in the US, whose government poured billions last year into a program to encourage its pharmaceutical companies to produce vaccines against COVID soonest. The UK is the base of AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, which developed their own COVID jab.
So it’s great news if the Philippines can push through with a planned collaboration with the US to set up a vaccine development center. As envisioned, a Virology Science and Technology Institute will be set up in New Clark City, the planned community within the Clark Special Economic Zone in Tarlac. The project, which has been pushed by the Department of Science and Technology together with the University of the Philippines, will conduct research and development on various types of vaccines for local production, including those now widely used in the country for diseases such as measles and polio.
For COVID, the world has been looking at the new technology that allowed Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech as well as Moderna and AstraZeneca to produce highly efficacious vaccines in record time, using messenger ribonucleic acid or mRNA.
The US Trade and Development Agency as well as the US International Development Finance Corp. have reportedly expressed interest in cooperating with the Philippines in the development, manufacture and distribution of both mRNA and traditional vaccines, including the infusion of substantial funds.
Thailand and Vietnam are already several steps ahead of the Philippines in this endeavor, with their locally developed vaccines now undergoing clinical trials and targeted for rollout in early 2022. Vietnam has been lauded for one of the world’s best responses to the pandemic, which allowed the country to even register modest economic growth last year when the Philippine economy went into a tailspin.
Self-reliance in vaccines is still a long way ahead for the Philippines. But the COVID pandemic should make Filipinos resolve to never again be at the complete mercy of other countries for public health security. Domestic vaccine production must be given the urgent attention that it deserves.