CEBU City Mayor Edgardo Labella announced last week a plan to purchase coronavirus vaccines once they are available. Not to be outdone, third-term Cebu City South District Rep. Rodrigo Abellanosa disclosed a couple of days later that he had filed a bill providing for a free nationwide coronavirus vaccination program.
The race is on. No, not for the mayorship in 2022 although Abellanosa, who is on his third term in Congress, is rumored to be interested in it, but for the still non-existent vaccine.
They are running the same race in the international stage. US President Donald Trump has already ordered from Pfizer 100 million doses of the vaccine that the drugmaker is still developing with an option to buy 500 million doses more if the vaccine proved to be effective and safe.
Not to be outdone, the United Kingdom has also signed a deal with manufacturer AztraZeneca for the supply of a similar 100 million doses of the vaccine that is being developed by the University of Oxford. Other countries like China and Germany that are in the advanced stages in the development of the vaccine are also expected to corner the first available doses for their own citizens.
Where does that leave us? More importantly, do we have the billions of dollars to fund Abellanosa’s proposed program? How much would a dose of vaccine cost?
The figures are daunting. Trump’s deal with Pfizer is worth US$2 billion for the first order of 100 million doses. That’s the equivalent of 100 billion at an assumed exchange rate of P50 to a dollar. And here, right now, we’re already talking of the possibility of a PhilHealth shutdown in a couple of years as a result of corruption!
A recent BBC report said that between 60-70 percent of the people have to be vaccinated to stop it from spreading easily and attain what is known as herd immunity. But honestly, do you think the other 40-30 percent will be happy to wait for that to happen while they remain exposed to the disease? The government has to buy for all of us even if it is going to be a financial nightmare.
Wait, there’s Russia which, according to a SunStar Cebu report yesterday, has offered to supply the Philippines with a vaccine that is supposedly safe and effective even if it still has to go through clinical trials. Besides, the Russian ambassador did not categorically say that the supply is free; he was probably only marketing a vaccine that still has to be manufactured in commercial quantity.
In fact, that is where all of the advanced vaccine developers are now: still trying to determine if the vaccine that they’re developing is effective and safe by conducting clinical trials. It may take a while before they can roll out their products to the market although it will make Trump happy if that happens before the US elections in November.
We will probably find the money or any other way to acquire the vaccines once they’re in the market. President Duterte promised that. In the meantime, let’s do the next best thing: avoid exposure to the virus. Wash your hands, treat every other person as a carrier and wear a mask. It’s absolutely cheaper than any vaccine.