President Rodrigo Duterte addressed the nation on September 7 and elaborated on how the government will acquire vaccines to stop the spread of COVID-19. He claims that there already is a vaccine and that the basis for choosing it is whichever is the cheapest one among the ones offered to us.
According to the WHO (World Health Organization) COVID-19 Dashboard, the Philippines is the country with the highest cumulative total of cases in the Western Pacific. Every day, approximately 3,156 new cases are reported. Ranking second is China, where the virus started, with a cumulative total of cases that is approximately two times smaller than the Philippines’.
The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, a branch of Johnson & Johnson’s, wishes to conduct clinical trials and is still waiting for the vaccine pre-screening results from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Vaccine Expert Panel. Once they pass the pre-screening, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will implement the evaluation of the manufacturers’ documents for them to continue and enter Phase 3 of their vaccine.
Their vaccine has several advantages over competitors, for it doesn’t have to be kept frozen and could require only one shot for it to take effect in the body. Its adenovirus vaccine technology leverages these advantages, which the two front-runner vaccines Moderna and Pfizer lack. They also released the blueprints of their trials after being criticised and questioned for their secrecy on the details of their vaccine’s progress.
Janssen Pharmaceutical has been using the adenovirus vaccine technology to create vaccines for Ebola, HIV, respiratory syncytial virus and Zika. In total, 100,000 people have received vaccines made with this technology for all four diseases, and no grave side effects were reported.
On the other hand, the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca in the U.K., were not allowed by the Department of Health (DOH) to conduct clinical trials in the country. Government officials believed that doing so would delay the developers’ progress, thus delaying the release of their vaccine.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is currently in combined Phases 2 (being tested in hundreds of people) and Phase 3 (being tested in thousands, wherein some are given a placebo), an efficient technique known to accelerate a vaccine’s progress. By simultaneously improving the vaccine while clinical trials are being conducted, more progress is achieved in a shorter amount of time.
Their vaccine also contains an adenovirus, ChAdOx1, which made a breakthrough in clinical trials conducted in chimpanzees. In May, the United States funded their research with $1.2 billion. On September 6, Astrazenecea was forced to halt their clinical trials when a volunteer developed an unknown disease, later discovered to be a case of inflammation known as transverse myelitis.
Meanwhile, the Gam-Covid-Vac vaccine (now known as Sputnik V) of the Gamaleya Research Institute of Russia was approved for early use by President Vladmir V. Putin, even when the former was still waiting for the results of the vaccine’s Phase 3. Russia has promised to compensate for any unexpected side-effects their vaccine may cause.
Another Chinese company, CanSino Biologics’ vaccine was approved by the Chinese military for limited use for a year starting June 25, even when it was still undergoing its Phase 3, claiming that the vaccine was a “specially needed drug.” It is still unknown if vaccination will be mandatory for Chinese soldiers.
Despite the evident “short-cutting” of China’s and Russia’s administrations to produce a vaccine, it is most likely for President Duterte to prioritize their vaccines. He claims that these countries have been quite “generous” to the Philippines when there was “nothing in sight” for it during the pandemic. He argues that other companies are only about making profit and their vaccines are just as good as China and Russia’s.
The Philippines is definitely in need of a proper vaccine. Allowing researchers like Janssen, Astrazeneca and Oxford University to conduct clinical trials here in the Philippines will further verify their results and the success of their vaccine. They have shown much promise and success in this race for a “cure,” therefore they should be granted the chance to further improve their vaccine.
Sometimes taking it slow and steady is the best way to climb mountains, to achieve greater things. It’s easier to get to the top when steps along the way are taken carefully and risks are handled properly. The more a research is tested and tried, the more viable its results are.
Further clinical trials should not be seen as a waste of time but as an opportunity to improve the vaccine’s quality. More clinical trials may result in early detection of minute flaws, thus preventing the occurrence of greater imperfections in the vaccine. Conducting these would not only improve the vaccine’s quality but also ensure its viability for decades to come.
It should be guaranteed that vaccines like this do not only stop the spread of disease but also prevent an outbreak from happening again. The race for a COVID-19 vaccine is like climbing a mountain: the best way to do it is by taking things slowly and steadily.
ABS-CBN News. (2020). President Rodrigo Duterte Addresses the Nation | September 7, 2020 [YouTube Video]. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3uWKSLg5Ic
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WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. (2020). Who.Int. https://covid19.who.int/table
Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker. (2020, June 10). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/science/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker.html
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