AstraZeneca says vaccine needs further research
MANILA (UPDATE) — The Philippines and private firms inked Friday a supply agreement for British drug group AstraZeneca's potential COVID-19 vaccine, the first such deal in a country aiming to further reopen its economy that has been ravaged by the pandemic.
The private firms will pay for the vaccine and donate half of the supply to the government, with the other half to be used to cover employees in the private sector, said Joey Concepcion, a government business adviser.
The deal secures 2.6 million doses of the vaccine, set to arrive in the Philippines in May or June 2021. This will inoculate over 1 million Filipinos as the vaccine requires 2 doses, Concepcion said in a livestream of the ceremonial signing.
The move "will give our people the confidence that we now finally have the chance to beat the virus and win back the lives we lost," said Secretary Carlito Galvez, chief implementer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19.
"Through this partnership we are thinking and acting ahead of the virus," he said. "Through this show of unity and selflessness, which we refer to as the bayanihan spirit, we are demonstrating to the world that although the pandemic knocked us down, we will rise up and come together as one."
The Philippines aims to inoculate around two-thirds of its 108 million population. It is negotiating for a 1 million more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The deal is another boost for AstraZeneca, which has already signed supply deals for more than 3 billion doses of its experimental vaccine developed with the University of Oxford.
QUESTIONS DELAYING ASTRAZENECA'S APPROVAL
AstraZeneca and its partner, the University of Oxford, announced on Monday that it was seeking regulatory approval for the vaccine after it showed an average 70 percent effectiveness.
That rate jumped to 90 percent when an initial half-dose then a full dose was given, similar to that in rival vaccines in development by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
But US scientists have said the higher rate of effectiveness came during tests in people aged 55 and under, and was discovered by accident during the clinical trials, suggesting the regimen's efficacy in crucial older age groups is unproven in this interim data.
"We believe that’s part of the whole process of these trials. Both showed very good results," said Concepcion.
"And I believe that in the end, AstraZeneca and Oxford will be able to develop a very strong and potent vaccine. That’s why the private sector is putting its money down to be part of the first batch of the vaccines that will be delivered next year," he added.
The head of the Oxford Vaccine Group, Andrew Pollard, said this week that further evidence will be available next month, but the result was still "highly significant".
The double jab vaccine is by far the least expensive among frontrunners, at about 2.5 euros or about P143 per dose.
"I thank the Astra group for their efforts in really helping the Philippines. They have zero profit for the year 2021," said Concepcion.
The AstraZeneca vaccine also has a significant advantage when it comes to transport and storage.
Moderna's vaccine must be kept at -20 degrees Celsius, while Pfizer's requires an even chillier -70C to remain viable. AstraZeneca's vaccine, by contrast, can be stored at the temperature of a normal fridge.
The government is also in talks with China's Sinovac over a 20-50 million vaccine supply deal, as well as US drugmaker Pfizer, Galvez said earlier.
The Philippines, which has the second largest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Southeast Asia after Indonesia, has gradually lifted coronavirus curbs since May after imposing one of the strictest lockdowns globally.
The $370-billion economy, among the fastest growing in Asia before the pandemic, fell deeper into recession in the third quarter as curbs continued to limit economic activity.
- With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters and Agence France-Presse