Asian countries are facing opportunities but also many challenges with the hope of ending Covid-19 with vaccine.
The vaccination problem is not only a scientific issue but also logistics, politics, society and geography. The bigger problem is that if the epidemic had time to spread, new strains of virus that were resistant to the vaccine would emerge. When the vaccine is mainly in the hands of rich countries, people in poorer countries will be exposed and prolonged pandemic.
Around 19 million people around the world are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to statistics from the University of Oxford. For life to return to normal, 70-80% of the world’s population must be protected with vaccines. According to Mandeep Dhaliwal, director of the HIV, Health and Development Group of the United Nations Development Program, the Covax mechanism set up to help poorer countries access vaccines has been under-funded and can not complete the mission.
“The amount of vaccines from Covax to 92 poor countries was only 3% of the population each by mid-2021. The richest countries, only 14% of the world population, bought more than half of the vaccines,” said Ms. Dhaliwal. comment. She said that a multilateral solution is essential, while calling on the world to unite, share vaccine technology, increase investment in the health system and vaccine production.
How did Asian countries move in the vaccine race?
The Philippines recorded 549,000 Covid-19 cases, the second highest in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on television on February 1: “Covid-19 is a problem that is not easy to control. Our biggest disadvantage is that our economic potential is not strong enough. We also do not have problems.” relationship”.
Vaccines of AstraZeneca and Oxford University are more popular with local authorities and businesses, Mr. Duterte aims for a large supply, including vaccines from China and Russia. As early as July 2020, Mr. Duterte proposed to Chinese President Xi Jinping to prioritize the distribution of vaccines to the Philippines. He also has an agreement with Russia on the Sputnik V vaccine developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Institute.
Philippine officials say China’s Sinovac Biotech has allocated 25 million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine, in addition to the 600,000 free doses committed by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a recent visit. The Chinese-sponsored vaccines will arrive in the Philippines on February 23, but Sinovac has not yet received approval from the Philippine Food and Drug Administration.
While Mr. Duterte has expressed support for the Russian and Chinese vaccines, diplomats and his task force Covid-19 have focused on US vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna. The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines have been licensed for emergency use in the Philippines.
Not all developing countries are in trouble. For example, India, where has a strong pharmaceutical industry thanks to low production costs and favorable government policies. India is running the world’s largest immunization program. Every day, half a million people are vaccinated in 10,000 locations across the country.
India also produces an excess of vaccines to supply to other countries, including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Mauritius, Brazil and Morocco. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called his country’s success in vaccine production “a testament to India’s strength, scientific background and talent”.
This country of over 1.3 billion people has recorded a steady decline in the number of Covid-19 cases since mid-September 2020. It is possible that previously unreported infections caused the virus to spread widely in the community, unintentionally creating natural immunity.
As the infection rate is declining, the government declared the victory of the epidemic, part of the Indian population is questioning the need to be vaccinated, especially using Covaxine – the vaccine has not been tested. In January, India’s pharmaceutical regulator licensed the emergency use of two local Covaxin vaccines from Bharat Biotech and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, produced by the Indian Serum Institute, under the brand name Covishield. .
However, Covaxin is not yet well received by the public. “People are still hesitant about Covaxin because data on the effectiveness of the vaccine has not been released,” said Professor Rajinder K. Dhamija at Lady Hardinge College of Medicine.
Authorities hope that vaccinations will accelerate in the next few weeks. At least six more vaccines are being put into production, including Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and another from the domestic company Zydus Cadila.
India’s national and private airlines are distributing vaccines across the country. They work with manufacturers, airports and transport companies to ensure the refrigeration line is not interrupted, as two Indian vaccines must be stored at a constant temperature of 2-8 ° C. .
After peaking at 700 cases in the spring of 2020, the daily number of new cases has stabilized over the summer and has dropped to as low as 21 nationwide. However, as of February 15, Japan is the only country in the G7 group that has not yet deployed a vaccine. For Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, this has turned into a political scandal.
The Japanese government sets the deadline for the Olympic Games’ torch relay event scheduled for March 25. Without timely vaccination of those at high risk of infection, Japan’s once postponed Olympics may have to be canceled.
The country started buying the vaccine in June 2020, but vaccination was stymied by stringent drug standards – a result of fear of getting vaccinated against HPV in 2013 and mumps, measles, rubella (MMR) in the 1990s. The effects and side effects of the HPV vaccine have not been confirmed, but the MMR vaccine has been associated with 3 deaths. Both of these vaccines have been developed domestically. Japan doesn’t have a mechanism like the US Food and Drug Administration – to give emergency approval to the Pfizer vaccine in just a month.
The changes to Japan’s pharmaceutical law in 2014 shortened the drug approval process to 9 to 12 months. The new rule came into effect in mid-December 2020, when Pfizer applied for quick approval. After two months, the document was approved and the first doses of the vaccine started being used on Feb. 17.
Neighboring South Korea, which will begin its vaccination campaign in February, must cut its Covid-19 vaccine approval time from 180 days to 40 days.
Mr. Suga, wishing to speed up the vaccination progress, consulted with the Embassy of Japan in the US regarding the consultation with data from the Pfizer clinical trial. However, Japan’s Agency for Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices insisted that domestic vaccines be tested before licensing, due to concerns that racial differences could affect efficacy and safety.
According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, testing results show that the Pfizer vaccine is effective regardless of age, sex and race. Of the participants, 4.4% were Asian.
Takakazu Yamagishi, a professor of political science at Nanzan University, said if Japan self-developed the Covid-19 vaccine with side effects, people would blame the official. Despite the economic and technical potential to create vaccines, Japan still has the easiest way to import.
Mai Dung (Follow Nikkei Asia)