The Philippine Star

Emergency approval


Aware of the regulatory constraint­s faced by the government, the private sector has pitched in and worked out an initial procuremen­t of 2.5 million doses of the COVID vaccine developed by British pharmaceut­ical giant AstraZenec­a together with the University of Oxford.

With two doses needed per person, this means over 1.2 million people, starting with health frontliner­s, will get the vaccine. The government has said negotiatio­ns are also underway for other vaccines developed by US companies Pfizer and Moderna as well as pharmaceut­ical firms in China and Russia, where voluntary inoculatio­ns have reportedly started using locally developed vaccines.

Amid the public health emergency, President Duterte has allowed the advance procuremen­t of vaccines even at their developmen­t stage, and has ordered the Food and Drug Administra­tion to issue emergency use authorizat­ion for the speedy rollout of the vaccines upon arrival in the Philippine­s. Considerin­g the track record of the FDA in the approval process, the biggest question is when the vaccines can become available.

Government regulators need a greater sense of urgency in this pandemic. The Philippine Red Cross, for example, is still waiting for approval from the Department of Health for saliva test kits, whose widespread use could help revive the tourism and travel industry in particular.

With the President’s order for emergency use authorizat­ion, the FDA said yesterday that it could approve a COVID vaccine by January next year and these could arrive by March. This is an advanced timetable from the previous bestscenar­io projection of arrival of the vaccine in June or July.

As of yesterday, the COVID-19 pandemic had claimed 8,446 lives and infected 435,413 people in the Philippine­s, and pushed the economy to an unpreceden­ted devastatin­g recession. Every month that the pandemic is prolonged and quarantine measures are imposed to contain virus transmissi­on means more deaths, illnesses, and lost jobs and livelihood­s. While there are risks in rushing the approval of a vaccine, these must be balanced with the consequenc­es of waiting too long to start vaccinatio­n.

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