COVID-19 vaccine ready in 2021? No certainty, says expert

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 27 2020 07:39 PM

MANILA — While hundreds of biotech companies all over the world are racing to be the first to develop a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, there is no certainty the preventive medicine will be ready by next year, an expert said.

“In my 20 years of doing vaccine trial, you cannot say you have the vaccine in 1 year or 2 years because we don’t know how this vaccine will act,” Dr. Lulu Bravo, executive director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination said during the virtual forum of Kapihan sa Manila Bay on Wednesday.

Earlier, the World Health Organization Philippines Office said that a vaccine against COVID-19 can take at least over a year to develop.

Bravo said scientists have been trying to develop a vaccine for malaria for 100 years but they have yet to succeed. Meanwhile, HIV vaccines are also still being developed after 40 years. 

Bravo pointed out that the scientific community has started developing a coronavirus vaccine because of the earlier epidemics of Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012.

“So we are a little bit ahead,” Bravo said. “But it really depends so much on what will happen next.”

Currently, the Philippines is waiting for the World Health Organization to start its Solidarity Trial, a multi-country clinical trial program for COVID-19 vaccines.

To be included in the Solidarity Trial, the vaccine must be on Phase II or III of clinical trials. 

Bravo said that there are more than 100 vaccines being developed worldwide and some are already in Phase II, which means that they are being tested to see if they produce antibodies to fight the virus. 

She said Phase I in human clinical trials only involve a small number of people to test the safety of the vaccine. Phase II involves hundreds of patients.

She said it’ll take around a year just to see how safe a vaccine is and if there are side effects.

“Phase 3 is when you have to give the vaccine to thousands and thousands of people,” she said.

Bravo also clarified that no vaccine "will give you a 100% efficacy.” And that for vaccines meant to prevent serious diseases, “even a 50 percent efficacy would be good.”

The Department of Health has said it will prioritize the vulnerable population once there is an approved vaccine for COVID-19.

“When we do our prioritization, it will always be the vulnerable who is going to go first,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during the same forum.

“Pero kung saka sakali at alam naman po natin expectedly na hindi ganun kadami ang makukuha natin sa pauna na pagbibigay ng mga bakunang ito, kailangan po natin mag-prioritize,” she explained.

(But if ever and we know that expectedly the first batch of vaccines won’t be a lot, we will have to prioritize.)

The DOH said the vulnerable population include senior citizens and people with pre-existing medical conditions or are immunocompromised. The DOH also included health workers because of their exposure to COVID-19 patients.

“That’s really the priority of government, that we take care of our vulnerable sectors. Not to say that we don’t take care of the others,” she said. “If we have enough resources of course we would like to give it to everybody.”

Vergeire said the government is also meeting with international companies developing vaccines on top of plans to join the WHO Solidarity Trial.