AstraZeneca working on vaccine that can handle variants
In a meeting organized by Go Negosyo as part of its nationwide vaccination initiatives, more than 350 companies from the private sector met with officials of AstraZeneca to streamline initial plans to procure COVID-19 vaccines for 2022. This as many countries in the world are racing to secure more vaccines as variants of the virus are making it necessary to supplement the initial doses administered.
During the meeting held last December 9, Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion shared that the private sector has been given the go-ahead by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to procure AstraZeneca vaccines in 2022. AstraZeneca is set to complete its delivery of the vaccines by December 27 procured under the tripartite agreement of the A Dose of Hope program. Under the new agreement now being arranged with the vaccine manufacturer, there will be a slight increase in the cost for the doses, but the price will already include shipping. Moreover, AstraZeneca will no longer be requiring payment up front or a security deposit.
AstraZeneca also revealed that it is now working on an updated version of its vaccine, called AZD2816, to address the variants strains of the SARS-CoV2 virus. The AZD2816 still uses the same adenoviral vector platform, but now contains ten changes across the spike protein, many of which are also seen in other variants of concern. The new version can also be used as a primary dose.
Concepcion said foresight and a pro-active stance are now resulting in historic lows in the number of COVID cases in the country. The same foresight, he said, can serve well in securing vaccines for 2022. “Things will change. That’s why we need to VAX to the MAX or else our family bubbles and our business bubbles will weaken,” he said, saying that the country needs to secure its booster jabs for the second half of 2022.
Data and medical experts have said that the probability of a surge happening in the Philippines before the year ends are very low, and that while the country may experience one in January, it will not likely be similar to the previous surges. “The question is sustaining this beyond Christmas” said Concepcion, saying, “what we are aiming for is a Great 2022.”
On November 27, 2020, the private sector, led by Concepcion, entered into a tripartite agreement with the national government and vaccine manufacturers to procure COVID-19 vaccines. The agreement secured for the country 17 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, half of which were to be donated to local government units.
Concepcion said that the complete delivery of the vaccines from the tripartite agreement by yearend are sufficient to fulfill the country’s vaccine needs for the first half of 2022, and that the change in the timing of the deliveries worked in the country’s favor because these can now be used for the booster shots.
AstraZeneca Country President Lotis Ramin said that the private sector can choose to switch their orders to the new vaccine variant, but emphasized that the orders have to be received as early as possible in order to assure supply. AstraZeneca has indicated that many other countries are already starting to secure vaccines for 2022.
AstraZeneca said that deliveries will be on a quarterly basis, and that with supply lines now more stable than before, deliveries can be fulfilled with fewer hitches. It estimates that the new version will be available in the second half of 2022.
In the meantime, Concepcion called for urgency in action so that its gains against the pandemic can be sustained. He said that employees of the private sector must be given protection against the virus, especially between the time the efficacy of the initial doses begin to wane and when boosters are administered. “I would rather put it in the arm of an employee rather than have it stay in storage,” he said.
He also pointed out that a transition in government by mid-year as a result of the 2022 national elections might affect the country’s pandemic response and this might necessitate a more pro-active stance in current plans.
Former Department of Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral agreed with Concepcion’s optimism for the country’s situation for the remainder of 2021. “We must continue to reopen the economy; to isolate and quarantine; to test and trace; to vaccinate; and to acquire the anti-COVID drugs,” she said. She also said that the country must also prepare for a surge by improving healthcare capacities, implementing universal healthcare, and fixing vaccine inequality, citing AstraZeneca’s efforts to give equitable distribution to its vaccines. The company said it allocated two-thirds of its vaccines to low- to middle-income countries, and was the first to deliver its COVAX donations to the Philippines.
“The efforts of the private sector, with the support of the IATF, has led us to this place,” said Concepcion. “Foresight was really important,” said Concepcion. “Business has bounced back to 70 to 80 percent pre-pandemic levels, andI am confident; we already have a plan in place,” he said.
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