The first vaccines against COVID-19 that will be used in the Philippines will come from China’s Sinovac Biotech, despite the company’s history of bribing Chinese regulators from 2002 to 2011, a Palace spokesman said Thursday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque identified Sinovac, as the first among three manufacturers that will supply the Philippines with COVID-19 vaccines next year. The other two are Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech.
“The target remains that Sinovac[’s Coronavac] will be the first that we can use to vaccinate our people and it will be in the first quarter of next year,” Roque said in a virtual Palace briefing.
Vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech would probably come by the second or third quarter of 2021, he added.
Roque said there was no danger of bribery in this case, and said only safe and effective vaccines could secure approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“The President has full trust in [FDA chief] Dr. [Eric] Domingo, so those allegations of bribery won’t happen here in the Philippines,” Roque said in a mix of English and Filipino.
He added that the Pfizer deal was brokered by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and US Secretary of State Mike Pomeo, while the government had a tripartite deal with local companies and AstraZeneca for some 2.6 million doses of its vaccine.
As wealthier nations secure more than enough doses to vaccinate their entire population, Roque acknowledged that developing countries could have a supply problem.
“But we have our ways. The President will not allow the Philippines to miss out since he himself assured that vaccine is coming,” he said,
In terms of financing, Roque said the P72.5 billion appropriated for COVID-19 vaccines would be enough to purchase the necessary doses.
The government is aiming to inoculate 60 million to 70 million Filipinos within three to five years.
Roque added that Manila could easily tap both the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank’s loan facilities to buy the vaccines.
An expert in infectious diseases, meanwhile, said the allergic reactions reported by those who were inoculated with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in the United Kingdom were normal and to be expected.
Many vaccines have “tolerable and manageable” adverse reactions, said Dr. Rontgene Solante, head of the adult infectious diseases unit at the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila.
“Most of these are really self-limited. They disappear and it’s not a serious adverse event,” Solante said in an interview on ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo.
“What’s important is we have to communicate these side effects or adverse events so the public doesn’t fear vaccinations because that’s where it starts, when we don’t help them understand,” he added.
Meanwhile, Senate finance committee chairman Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said more than 100 million Filipinos could be vaccinated if each vaccine that the government buys costs P600.
In an interview on the ABS-CBN News Channel, Angara said the Congress had allocated P73.5 billion for the vaccines in the P4.5 trillion budget approved by Congress.
He also said the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 allotted another P10 billion for the inoculation drive.
“So if you add that to the P72.5 billion here in the 2021 budget, you are talking about P82.5 billion, and if you are talking about a vaccine that you can obtain at around P600, you are talking about over 100 million persons getting vaccinated,” Angara said.
Angara said the proposed budget for the vaccines would be enough to meet the target of the government to vaccinate 60 to 70 percent of Filipino, which Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said would be enough to achieve herd immunity.
Of the P72.5 billion budget for the vaccines under the 2021 budget, only P2.5 billion could be immediately funded as the rest is lodged in standby funds.
But Angara guaranteed that the P70 billion unprogrammed budget for the vaccines can be considered “solid.”
Senator Christopher Go said the National Task Force Against COVID-19 has created six task groups to carry out the country’s vaccination plan. These include:
1. Task Group on Vaccine Evaluation and Selection, which will evaluate the vaccine, determine precisely who gets which vaccine and how to allocate when supply-constrained;
2. Task Group on Diplomatic Engagement and Negotiation;
3. Task Group on Procurement and Finance, which will ensure funding is budgeted and allocated for all vaccination activities;
4. Task Group on Vaccine Cold Chain and Logistics Management, which will distribute and recover vaccines as needed, and procure, store and distribute personal protective equipment, and supplies;
5. Task Group on COVID-19 Immunization Program, which will enroll providers, assess coverage and develop plans to fill any gaps identified; and
6. Task Group on Demand Generation and Communications, which will develop messaging and initiatives to drive public uptake of the vaccine.
The Palace said the P72.5 billion allocation in the 2021 budget would be enough to vaccinate 60 million Filipinos.
“I think the amount is enough. Under the DOF (Department of Finance) scheme, the P72 billion will not come from the national appropriations which we initially need for the vaccination of 60 million Filipinos,” Roque said.
He said aside from the allotment, the government may use loans to vaccinate the remaining population against COVID-19, which has already infected over 444,000 people nationwide.
The Philippines logged on Thursday 1,383 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 445,540, as nine laboratories failed to submit their data on time, the Department of Health (DOH) reported.
This is the 11th straight day that the daily tally fell below 2,000.
Top cities and provinces with new cases are Quezon City, 83; Laguna, 75; Manila, 68; Bulacan, 65; and Davao City, 61.
The DOH also reported that there are 27,781 active cases in the country, which is 6.2 percent of the total. Of the active cases, 85.5 percent are mild; 6.7 percent are asymptomatic; 5 percent are critical; 2.5 percent are severe; and 0.25 percent are moderate.
The DOH also reported 133 new recoveries, bringing the total recoveries to 409,058, which is 91.8 percent of the total cases.
The 24 new fatalities brought the death toll to 8,701, which is 1.95 percent of the total cases.