Published by the Visayan Daily Star
Editor-in-Chief & President
Bureau Chief, Dumaguete
MAJA P. DELY
|CARLOS ANTONIO L. LEONARDIA
World Health Organization Western Pacific Regional Director Dr. Takeshi Kasai urged countries to continue improving efforts to respond to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic instead of pinning hopes for a return to normalcy on a vaccine.
Dr. Kasai said he viewed the global race to develop a vaccine with both optimism and caution. “Optimistic because I’ve been so impressed by the speed of development. But I’m also cautious because, even if they can really manage and develop safe and effective vaccines, the production capacity would not really meet the demand coming from the entire world,” he said.
“I think what is important is we continue to improve our response and not just hope for the vaccine,” Kasai noted.
Scientists around the world have been focused on developing a vaccine that is both safe and effective, but experts say the time when vaccines will reach communities for mass use is still far off. Many public health experts point to developing a vaccine as only the first step. The bigger challenge is getting populations vaccinated, which includes manufacturing and distributing it worldwide. It has been pointed out that countries which can afford will get first access, leaving poorer nations to wait.
University of Sydney associate professor and Global Health Security Network director Adam Kamradt-Scott said this has happened on at least two occasions. In 2007, Indonesia couldn’t purchase H5N1 (bird flu) vaccines despite being one of the worst affected countries at the time, as other countries had advanced purchase agreements with manufacturers. In 2009, rich countries likewise bought up almost all the stock of H1N1 influenza vaccines, crowding out less developed nations.
The Philippines that is currently the most affected country in the region in terms of the number of cases needs to take heed of the warnings, especially since many critics see the country’s strategy has been reduced to waiting for a vaccine. President Rodrigo Duterte himself has mentioned on several occasions that a vaccine is the “only salvation now.”
Kasai emphasized that there are measures that can and should be taken now by governments. These include implementing early detection and treatment strategies, strengthening public health systems to identify, trace, isolate and treat cases and their contacts.
The facts and figures prove that the Philippine government’s COVID-19 response has been indeed slow and inadequate but we cannot continue doing the same thing while expecting different results and simply waiting for a vaccine to save us. We have no choice but to improve our response. Despite the lack of leadership, we can only hope that the rest of government has not yet given up on its people.*