COVID-19 vaccines

[OPINION] It’s not just about the number of vaccine doses donated

Marie Antoinette de Jesus
[OPINION] It’s not just about the number of vaccine doses donated

Graphic by Raffy de Guzman

'Get those vaccines into people’s arms!'

As we read up on news about COVID-19 vaccines, we feel buoyed by headlines such as “Philippines to receive up to 1M US-donated COVID-19 vaccines” or “PH to receive COVID-19 vaccine donation from Japan; 6.4M more doses arriving by end-June” or “Philippines receives 400,000 more Sinovac doses from China.”

But according to Christy Feig, the Managing Director for Communications and Advocacy for the Rockefeller Foundation, in a recently-concluded Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Philippines webinar last Friday, June 25, vaccines don’t save lives; vaccination does (and she’s not alone in this sentiment)! 

This became one of the central points in the KAS webinar “COVID-19 Vaccination Diplomacy and Equity: Are We Doing Enough?”

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Of course, vaccine diplomacy has become crucial in this pandemic — regardless of the purpose or motive of the donor country. However, as underscored in the same webinar by Lisa Cornish, Senior Reporter at Devex, vaccine diplomacy shouldn’t simply be about the number of doses donated by a country. Further investment in vaccine infrastructure — whether accessed through loans via multilateral banks or grants from donor countries (with the former more common than the latter in this pandemic, as specified by Cornish) — is also significant. 

The number of vaccines donated to the Philippines and other countries will be for naught if it is not supported by vaccine infrastructure and, of course, human resources (i.e., health workers). Aside from just focusing on our vaccine supply (which of course, is important), the country must always keep the end goal in mind, and that is, vaccine administration

Get those vaccines into people’s arms! 

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In the case of the Philippines and other recipient countries, it would be advantageous to track the “journey” of these donated vaccines to its completion — how many of these vaccines were indeed administered? Ultimately, this gives even more meaning to the vaccines donated. Personally, I think this data could be highly useful for donor countries that aim to truly measure the impact of their vaccine diplomacy. 

What is the use of donating a million doses, for example, if only half of them were administered and the rest put to waste? Wouldn’t the headline, “Half a million Filipinos fully vaccinated through the donation of (insert donor country here)” sound much better than the earlier headlines? 

And speaking of going beyond the short-term, for sustainability’s sake, it’s valuable for developing countries — including the Philippines — to build up their own vaccine manufacturing capacity (perhaps through vaccine diplomacy as well). 

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[OPINION] On US vaccine diplomacy

[OPINION] On US vaccine diplomacy

Currently, COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing is limited to a few countries — and this includes the Serum Institute of India. So when there was a huge spike in COVID-19 deaths and infections in India and the country had to focus on its own domestic challenges, these disrupted the global vaccine supply, plateauing, even halting, India’s own vaccine diplomacy. As suggested by Feig, we needed and need other countries with vaccine manufacturing capacities like India.

While vaccine development is more challenging and costlier and is concentrated in the developed world, building more vaccine production hubs is more doable, practicable, and forward-looking for developing countries. And with more than 200 potential outbreaks each year, thinking in and preparing for the long-term is indispensable. 

We can’t just keep on being reactive, having a limited perspective, and hoping that the next pandemic will happen in another lifetime. – Rappler.com

Marie Antoinette de Jesus is the Senior Program Manager for Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) Philippines and has been a development practitioner for most of her professional career, focusing on governance and politics, international relations, and economics. You can reach her at tonette.dejesus@kas.de for any comments and feedback. The views and opinions in this piece are solely hers.