The Philippines will spend P20 billion to procure an initial batch of 40 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine for the first 20 million beneficiaries that will include the poorest of the poor, the military and the police.
President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to distribute the vaccine for free once available, except to enemies of the state such as drug lords and drug pushers, and those belonging to the upper economic strata.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the Philippine International Trading Corp. will be in charge of the procurement, while the state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines and Land Bank of the Philippines will bankroll the purchase.
Duterte said the first three firms who are scheduled to complete clinical tests the earliest are all from China, which has since assured the Philippines of priority access to the vaccine.
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“By December, we will be back to normal,” the President said.
“This will be for free. The first beneficiaries will be the poorest of the poor. Second will be my military and my police - the backbone of my administration,” Duterte said.
The President said the military will be in charge of the distribution to ensure that the process is not politicized.
“For my enemies, don’t use needles. Just use the bayonet on drug pushers and drug lords. I will not release vaccines to them,” he said.
Dominguez said there would be enough funds for the purchase of the vaccines.
“PITC will sell the vaccines to the DoH. The DoH will pay PITC over time from their future allocations from the national budget,” Dominguez told reporters Friday.
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Dominguez said at least 20 million Filipinos will be provided with COVID-19 vaccine for free. In a Malacanang briefing Thursday night and aired Friday morning, Dominguez said three pharmaceutical firms in China, one each from Great Britain and the US were already in the advanced stages of testing the vaccine.
He expressed confidence that by October, the trials for the vaccines would be finished and likely be approved by the Food and Drug Administration by December.
Duterte expressed confidence that the first vaccines would come from China.
“That’s why I salute the Chinese,” he said in Filipino. “The first vaccines will probably be from China.”
Duterte said in a taped public address aired on state-run PTV-4 on Friday morning, that the vaccines produced by Chinese drugmakers Sinovac, Biotech and Sinopharm are showing promising results.
“I promise you, by the grace of God, I hope by December we will be back to normal,” Duterte said in his speech.
The government’s plan is to conduct the vaccination of 20 million people—or 18.5 percent of the country’s 108 million population.
Senator Joel Villanueva, however, said the President should not be overly optimistic about vaccines being developed due to the risks attached to speeding up their development.
“We know the urgency to have a vaccine as soon as possible but there are risks,” he said.
“We wish that there will be transparency in the experimental results of these vaccines,” he also said.
When it comes to vaccines, Senator Nancy Binay said the government must take the right approach to public health safety, and provide the highest degree of prudence.
Although it is very encouraging to know that there are vaccines being developed, she said the public needs more information as to how these work and respond, and the potential risks they may have.
She said the DOH should learn from the Dengvaxia experience--otherwise, the consequences can be more dangerous than the virus.
Senator Francis Pangilian, meanwhile, said that before senators take the President’s plan seriously, he should fire Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
Pangilinan said the President’s proposals to address COVID ring hollow and empty when he condones incompetence and corruption and when his team continues to miss their targets for mass testing, contact tracing, and treatment, and in doing so has miserably failed to stop the spread of the disease—now surpassing China’s official numbers.