Political acumen vital for vaccine buy

Editorial | Mary Ma 8 Sep 2020

A lot more than medical wisdom could be involved in vaccinating against Covid-19.

In previous vaccination programs against the common flu, people seldom asked where the vaccines were made when they gladly got the jab.

But today they will be tempted to ask just such a question after having learnt so much after months of reports about coronavirus vaccine developments.

Everyone must know by now that vaccines are being developed in several nations, from the US and Britain to China and Russia.

Given a choice, will people want to choose the source of their vaccine? That's a question that, sooner or later, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee will have to face.

Chinese University respiratory medicine expert David Hui Shu-cheong shared some good news when he revealed the administration has placed orders via a World Health Organization facility for vaccines sufficient for 35 percent of the city's population.

It was a timely move, and I have little doubt the SAR would have regretted it if it had not pre-ordered them now.

As all developed countries scramble to secure vaccines, they are also betting on the efficacy of a number of them with binding agreements. Even if only one succeeds and the others ultimately fail, a lifeline will have been secured.

The SAR has money and it should broaden procurement as wide as possible to cover other probable vaccines and not allow budgetary constraints to stand in the way.

Hui disclosed that, in addition to the vaccines being secured through the WHO's Covax Facility, Hong Kong plans to procure several different ones for the remaining 65 percent of the population.

But his disclosure was less than impressive because he was unable to say which vaccines Chan is keen to get.

Sadly, it is no longer a simple task of procurement in the present context of complicated international relationships.

While mainland supplies are presumed in view of Beijing's undertaking to give the SAR the vaccines it needs, the global chains of distribution are less than assured, including the two leading candidates - Astrazeneca/University of Oxford in Britain and Moderna in the US.

Perhaps Hui did not know, even though he has been advising the administration on the pandemic. Or perhaps he knew but did not want to say due to the political sensitivity of the matter.

However, common sense says that Chan must have a priority list for the various vaccines. So which ones are being placed towards the top and which near the bottom of the procurement list?

It is logical to assume that the Oxford University and Moderna vaccines are given higher priority, while the Russian version is way down the list - if not at the bottom.

Since the West now considers the SAR to be no different from other mainland cities, there is uncertainty over whether it will be able to secure these vaccines through bilateral deals.

Chan will also face another question: how acceptive will the public be to the procured vaccine or vaccines?

Although the situation is serious in Brazil, a newspaper there ran a survey which showed that up to 25 percent of Brazilians do not want any Covid-19 vaccine.

Chan will discover that vaccination is going to be more than a mere medical matrix to handle.

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