The View From Asia

Finally hope, but when will people get the vaccine?

Asia News Network writers discuss the perils of vaccine nationalism in the wake of successful drug trials. Here are excerpts.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs complex and ultra-cold conditions below minus 70 deg C or more for long-term storage. PHOTO: AFP

Secure the vaccine


Sin Chew Daily, Malaysia

When world-class pharmaceuticals announced that they had successfully developed the coronavirus vaccines, Health Minister Adham Baba said the ministry had to first make sure the vaccines would not have side effects for the recipients, meaning we still need to go through the "professional evaluation and observation" before placing the order, as the rest of the world is rushing to grab the vaccines.

As such, when the vaccines are already in the market, they may not be available to us yet. Malaysians may have to travel overseas to get the injection if they really want the vaccine.

Given the Malaysian health ministry's passive attitude at this moment, the approximately two billion doses coming online next year may not get to make it to Malaysia!

Another concern is that we won't be able to buy Pfizer's vaccine as we do not have cold chain transportation technology capable of transporting and storing the vaccine at minus 70 deg C.

As we do not have the technology to transport the vaccine at such low temperatures, we have to exclude Pfizer's vaccine for the time being, and fight for Moderna's limited production with the rest of the world.

Moderna's vaccine production capacity will only be able to meet 13 per cent of global demand, and if we do not fight for it, we may not even get the vaccine by 2023, not to mention next year.

The successful development of coronavirus vaccines is no doubt great news for the world, but that does not mean we can take things lightly. We must ready ourselves to acquire the vaccines.

Prepare for vaccine challenge

Moira Gallaga

Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippines

In the Philippines, President Duterte has ordered the National Task Force Against Covid-19 to purchase an initial 60 million doses of the vaccine once it is available.

Assuming that our government has successfully secured the initial 60 million doses of vaccines it intends to procure, it will require considerable resources to transport and distribute those millions of vials of vaccines to their intended beneficiaries.

First of all, the vaccines require special handling.

In terms of transport, it will take the equivalent of 60 Boeing 777 freighters to fly the 60 million doses to the Philippines. With the rising cost of shipping and freight rates, plans should already be put in place to ensure that the country is prepared and ready once the supply of vaccines is available.

Once the vaccine arrives in the country, the next challenge is transporting it to other parts of the country. Do we have adequate logistical assets that also ensure the integrity of the cold chain system required to prevent spoilage of the vaccines?

There are other details as well, such as storage facilities, syringes, and cooling boxes that will be used when the vaccines are transported to vaccination centres out in the field.

Serious discussion and consideration should be made regarding investing in developing local production capability of syringes and other vital components of the cold chain system required for vaccine distribution.

People's vaccine

Aqdas Afzal

Dawn, Pakistan

In this most awful year, finally there is some encouraging news. AstraZeneca, BioNTech-Pfizer, and Moderna, leading pharmaceutical companies, have revealed stellar results for their vaccine trials, indicating the availability of a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as January next year.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced that his government is setting aside US$100 million (S$133 million) for purchasing the Covid-19 vaccine. But the story does not end here as the path to obtaining the vaccine is riddled with obstacles.

Procuring the Covid-19 vaccine, is going to test the developing world's leaders in more ways than one. For starters, getting the vaccine is not only a financing issue; the vaccine is simply not available.

A small group of wealthy nations - the US in particular - have all but cornered the Covid-19 vaccine market by placing advance orders. Oxfam estimates that a majority of the developing world will not get access to the Covid-19 vaccine until late 2022.

Some economists argue that a free vaccine cannot be provided as it violates intellectual property rights. Economists, however, have also long recognised "public goods" which are a special class of goods that benefit everyone.

In the case of the Covid-19 vaccine, there is an urgent need for identifying policies for ensuring fair access for developing countries.

One way in which this can be done is through a Pakistan-led developing countries' push for converting the Covid-19 vaccine into a global public good, forcing wealthy nations to share the vaccine's formula with pharmaceutical companies in the developing world.

Meanwhile, Pakistani policymakers must take stock of their vaccine delivery systems. Given the social resistance against the polio vaccination programme, policymakers must start work on generating greater acceptance for Covid-19 mass vaccination through electronic, print and social media.

Race exposes global inequity

Kamal Ahmed

The Daily Star, Bangladesh

Vaccines developed by both Pfizer and Moderna are being described as game changers. Based on the results of trials, both of these companies have claimed 95 per cent efficacy of their vaccines. Russia has also reported 95 per cent efficacy of its vaccine Sputnik, but apparently, Western experts are yet to be fully convinced.

The most crucial thing is the rise of vaccine nationalism. It seems no one is willing to pay heed to the UN Secretary-General's warning that "no one is safe until everyone is safe".

Unfortunately, the world is witnessing once again the power of money working against the disadvantaged during the pandemic, as happened during the procurement of testing kits and personal protective equipment.

Moderna has the capacity to produce 1 billion doses of the vaccine in one year, but 78 per cent of those have already been bought by richer countries.

It would also be wiser to explore possibilities of partnering with other vaccine developers. Covid-19 is here to stay and scientists suggest vaccination could be an annual exercise like other flu jabs.

  • The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 24 news media titles

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