Most Filipinos may have to wait until 2022 to be immunized against COVID-19, the country’s vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez said Monday.
Galvez, speaking on ANC’s Matter of Fact, said “equitable access” to the vaccine would most likely be achieved in 2022 because of the limited supply.
For now, he said, priority will be given to health care workers, indigents, vulnerable groups, essential workers, policemen, and soldiers.
The government will also give priority to areas that have been hard hit by the pandemic, such as Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao.
Galvez said the government is already negotiating with China's Sinovac, Johnson & Johnson's pharmaceutical arm Janssen, and US drug maker Pfizer, among others, for possible vaccine supply deals.
The Philippine Council for Health Research Development, meanwhile, said the mass vaccination of millions of Filipinos could start by June or July 2021, despite the expected scarcity of vaccines.
The council’s executive director Dr. Jaime Montoya said the government continues to coordinate with the suppliers of vaccines.
But Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the vaccine deal signed by the government, the private sector, and British drug company AstraZeneca may be voided if its vaccine failed to get regulatory approval in the Philippines.
Duque emphasized that the tripartite agreement requires the candidate vaccine to undergo evaluation by vaccine experts and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the supply deal, secured by the private sector, was an “advanced commitment" to ensure the Philippines will get 2.6 million shots of the vaccine.
AstraZeneca's vaccine, which is reportedly 70 percent effective against COVID-19 at its first half dose and 90 percent after the second full dose, is up for evaluation by the Philippine Vaccine Experts Panel and the Ethics Review Board.
After that, the vaccine would have to get FDA approval before clinical trials in the Philippines could proceed.
Also on Monday, a former adviser of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases said the government should give priority to Metro Manila, Calabarzon and Central Luzon when it comes to distributing a COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Anthony Leachon said these areas account for 70 percent of the country’s economy.
“They said we can vaccinate in three to five years. I have a different suggestion. The initial volume of vaccines from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna should be focused on NCR which has a population of 13 million, Calabarzon and Central Luzon because these areas make up 70 percent of the economic epicenter of the country,” Leachon said in an interview on ANC.
“Once we are okay with the 70 percent of our economic epicenter, then we should focus on other hotspots [of COVID-19] like Davao and Cebu,” Leachon said.
Doing so would enable the government to achieve its target in two years instead of five, Leachon said.
Leachon was referring to the timeline given byGalvez Jr. that 100 million Filipinos will be given a COVID-19 vaccine in five years or 20 million Filipinos annually.
Vergeire deferred commenting on Galvez’s timeline since the country has no COVID-19 vaccines yet approved by Philippine regulators.