By Jun Ledesma

Missing the train

December 31, 2020, 2:10 am

THERE is so much ado about members of the Presidential Security Group getting inoculated with  Covid 19 vaccines from China’s Sinopharm. Elsewhere on this planet, no one can tell as to how many have procured and managed to obtain doses of vaccine outside of what governments have ordered for their citizens. Our politicians, on the other hand, are busy trivializing the virtual drop-in-the bucket doses which obviously were just a token, as Spox Harry Roque termed it. 

Let’s look at what is happening beyond our shores. Quite a number of countries tried to develop their own home-grown vaccines but many failed and had given up on their quests.  To fully appreciate the efforts, scientific research, and the distinctions of each of the vaccines that are being developed, it is imperative to dissociate oneself from politics and biases and remove the tags or flags from where the vaccines are developed. Take note that even the World Health Organization has not made any endorsements or commentaries that would compliment or denigrate any brand. 

It is, however, necessary that we mention here the nine leading vaccines that had undergone pre-clinical testing, undergoing trials, early and limited approval, and final approval for vaccination.  

1. Pfizer/BioNTech was ahead in the race having completed testing and three trials although have yet to have the stamp of final approval.  It is being distributed and already administered by countries that had placed their orders early on regardless of whether or not it will be effective. The efficacy of the vaccine is high at over 90%.  The issue of concern is however the negative 70 degrees centigrade temperature required from the lab and in transit to the country of destination (US/Germany).

2. Moderna vaccine is similar to Pfizer except that transport is no problem in that it remains viable at 2 to 8 degrees centigrade. While it is undergoing trials orders for millions of doses had already been placed by several countries (US).

3. AstraZeneca/Oxford - early trials showed a high efficacy rate, moreover, the firm made a recent claim that the vaccine has a 100% efficacy rate. The vax can also be transported at 2 to 8 degrees centigrade (UK).

4. Novavax - is on the final stage of trial and is said to be the dark horse in the search of Covid-19 vaccine race. It too can be transported at 2-8 degrees centigrade (US).

5. Johnson & Johnson- our Food and Drug Administration has endorsed J&J vax and clears its trials in the Philippines. Also easy to transport at 2-8 degrees C and just require one dose to raise the immune system of the body. Recently however the company announced it will conduct separate trials using two doses (US). 

 6. Sinovac Biotech- this vaccine is reported to trigger an immune response by using chemically inactivated Covid 19 virus.  While trials are ongoing, it was, however, approved earlier for distribution after its pre-clinical testing.  It also requires only 2-8 degrees centigrade to sustain its efficacy (China).

7. Gamaleya - like Sinovac, this vaccine was approved before trial and presently available in limited quantity. It can be stored at 2-8 degrees centigrade (Russia).

8. CanSino Biologics - this vaccine was given the green signal to inoculate China military forces prior to its trials. It uses the common cold virus to trigger the immune response. Can be stored at 2-8 degrees centigrade (China).

9. Sinopharm - this is the controversial vaccine that was inoculated to members of the Presidential Security Group. This was used by hundreds of thousands in China following its early approval for distribution prior to trials. It went through pre-clinical tests. Easy to transport at 2-8 degrees centigrade (China).

Take note that only China and Russia allowed the use of their vaccines even before they launch the clinical trials which other developers do. But they went through pre-clinical testing. I would presume they use guinea pigs to do this and the use of the “inactivated” covid virus to enhance the immunity system. Given these modalities and the emergencies spawned by the pandemic they took the risk and so far we have yet to hear some serious side effects. 

Amidst the brouhaha over the Sinopharm vaccines that the PSG got our FDA finally decided to allow Johnsons & Johnsons to conduct clinical trials here. The FDA has said a mouthful against what it termed as the illegal use of and purchase of the vaccines which have not been approved by the FDA. 

But we are in the midst of a full-blown pandemic that had claimed the lives of millions even in the most advanced countries like the US and UK.  And then here comes a new strain that is more infectious. Our problem here is that FDA and the political opposition thought we live in normal times and are preoccupied with looking at legal loopholes to make the Duterte administration look bad. The Presidential Security Guards took that risk on the heels of the new strain and accepted that token from whoever donated that Sinopharm doses to skirt the legal issues of purchasing without prior bidding and completed. Obviously, the PSG knows better about “emergency use” than the FDA who still thinks Covid-19 is just a common cold. 

If we follow the opposition and the FDA, the Philippines will be left in the “kangkungan”.  See what happened when somebody dropped the ball on the Pfizer negotiation? While our neighbors have placed advanced orders and payments on various vaccines still undergoing clinical trials, here we are debating whether it is legal or illegal to do the same. If we are that legalese even in the midst of the pandemic then maybe Congress should give the President Emergency Power to place orders of vaccines from wherever is the source. This, although sadly I think we again missed the early train. 



About the Columnist

Image of Jun Ledesma

Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.