The Philippines is trying to secure access to a vaccine in development against COVID-19 as it battles the worst outbreak in Southeast Asia.

While other regional countries like Indonesia have already inked deals with frontrunner vaccine candidates, the archipelago’s lack of capacity to locally manufacture vaccines has disadvantaged its bid.

“We are the last in the line because we can’t develop our own vaccines,” the Philippines’ former health chief Esperanza I. Cabral said. “If we had the capability to make vaccines, we would come first.”

The country is banking on a vaccine to contain its surging outbreak that has infected over 197,000 people after testing gaffes and poor tracing rendered one of the world’s longest lockdowns ineffective. President Rodrigo R. Duterte has begun easing restrictions despite cases doubling this month to rescue the local economy that’s heading for its deepest slump since 1985.

The Philippines will test 14 vaccines for clinical trials helmed by the World Health Organization, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told a local news channel on Monday. Moscow’s Sputnik V vaccine is expected to start mass-scale Phase 3 trials in the Philippines in October.

Negotiations are also on with 16 makers of potential COVID-19 vaccines to procure supplies. The government intends to stock up shots worth $400 million and is in talks with the US, UK, and China for supplies.

Regional competition, meanwhile, is heating up. A state-owned drugmaker in Indonesia is gearing up for human trials of Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s coronavirus vaccine while Singapore and Thailand are developing their own candidates. Malaysia has picked local drugmakers for packaging and distribution of vaccine doses when available.

Local manufacturing is still a possibility, according to Ms. Vergeire. The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Manila has applied for an Asian Development Bank grant to study the feasibility of setting up a vaccine facility.

In the meantime, the government could also partner with the private sector to fund a modular vaccine packaging facility to get its foot in the door of the global vaccine supply chain, she said.

“Vaccine security will be a challenge. You cannot ensure that even if you have the money, you can get the vaccine you need,” said Lulu C. Bravo, executive director of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination. “The whole world is going to try to get the vaccine for itself.” — Bloomberg