A third wave of the coronavirus pandemic could arrive soon, due basically to the shortage of vaccines.
As of the past weekend, less than one percent of the Philippine population of some 105 million has been vaccinated against COVID-19. At the same time, the ongoing second wave which began in the middle of last month continues to infect Filipinos by the thousands and kill by the scores per day.
President Rodrigo Duterte said, “many more will die here.”
The reason, he added, was that “there’s no sufficient supply” of the vaccines, the global supply of which has been absorbed by the developed world.
Worst of all, he said he had “no idea” when the Philippines would be able to procure enough vaccines to reach herd immunity, or roughly about 70 million inoculated nationwide.
While billions of dollars have been set aside to purchase vaccines, the problem has been one of supply. All the available vaccines, as well as vaccines yet to be manufactured, have already been paid for by other countries.
While the twice extended lockdown is expected to lower the number of new cases well below the current daily average of 10,000, that number is expected to again rise as early as next month, representing the third wave.
As of this week, the Philippines continues to steadily march towards the one million cases mark, with some 200,000 being active cases.
At the current rate, doctors and health workers say it will take two years before the majority of the Philippine population is vaccinated.
By then, however, the country will likely be a hotbed of new variants of the original COVID-19. For now, there have been a handful of new variants mostly coming from abroad but which includes one variant that originated in the Philippines. They have all arrived in the country, albeit in limited quantities.
Last month, the Philippines recorded several hundred cases of the UK variant, and 152 cases of the South Africa variant. Last week, the first case of the Brazil variant found its way to the Philippines.
The Health department warned media not to refer to the variant discovered in Central Visayas as the Philippine variant but only as a variant that was found in the country, without necessarily emanating from within.
Mutations of the original coronavirus, the new variants have been confirmed to spread at a much faster pace than the original. The high transmissibility rate does not mean that it is necessarily deadlier, however.
It is not clear if the current available vaccines will be effective against the new strains of the virus.
The Philippines has the second highest death toll due to COVID-19 in Southeast Asia. This, despite the country imposing what is considered the longest and toughest lockdowns in the world when the coronavirus first appeared last year.
The Philippines returned to the ultra-tough lockdown last month at the onset of the second wave, initially for one week only, then extended by another week, and more lately another two weeks, or until the end of the month.
COVID-19 infections hit their first peak eight months ago, before steadily dropping. By the end of last month, however, the peak of eight months ago was not only reached a second time but was exceeded.
After speaking with President Vladimir Putin, Malacañang said Russia could supply the Philippines up to 20 million doses of their vaccine but the supply could not be available until the third or fourth quarter of this year, at the earliest.