The Philippines has secured 137 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine and could get 42 million doses more from the global COVAX facility in the next few years, vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez said.
Galvez also confirmed that the government has just signed an agreement for 25 million doses of CoronaVac, the coronavirus vaccine of Chinese firm Sinovac.
“They gave a commitment, and I signed the term sheet and had a copy of the signed term sheet for 25 million [doses] sent to Hong Kong,” he told President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday in a meeting that was televised Wednesday night.
“The 137 million doses are secured for until next year, it could be as high as 170 to 172 million excluding 42 million from COVAX,” Galvez added.
An initial batch of 50,000 doses is expected to arrive in the country on February 20, to be followed by 950,000 more doses in March. Galvez lauded Sinovac for being the “only” vaccine maker to give definite monthly delivery dates for its doses.
Galvez said the country has also secured 40 million doses of Novavax, 25 to 40 million jabs of the Pfizer vaccine, 17 million from AstraZeneca, 3 to 5 million from Moderna, an unspecified amount from Johnson and Johnson, and the Sputnik vaccine from Russia, which offered 50 to 100 million doses.
The Philippines will also get at least 30 million doses from the COVAX Facility, a global initiative that aims to ensure equitable access to the vaccines for poor nations, Galvez said.
In the same meeting, Duterte defended Chinese-made vaccines, claiming they are every bit as reliable as Western ones.
“It’s as good as any other bakuna na na-imbento ng mga Amerikano or mga Europeans. Hindi nag-kulang ang Chinese, hindi sila nagkulang sa utak,” the President said.
The President then read the priority list of people for vaccination, then promised businesses who have helped procure the jab for the government: “We will remember you after this. And more importantly, God will always be conscious of what you’re doing.”
The development tempered issues coming from the Senate, where Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday demanded to know why the government favored the COVID-19 vaccine from Sinovac of China despite its apparent disadvantages when compared to other vaccines produced by more credible pharmaceutical companies.
After Monday’s Senate Committee of the Whole hearing on the government’s vaccination program, Lacson said it appeared that Sinovac was “the chosen one.”
Lacson said the availability of only Sinovac until June, as well as the replies of officials at Monday’s hearing, indicates the government favored this vaccine.
“Can somebody explain why preference is given to the second most expensive vaccine, [that] has [a] lower efficacy, a record of suspended clinical trials and [that] has not even applied for an EUA (emergency use authorization) over other vaccines that cost much less, more [more] efficacious and are about to be granted their EUAs?” Lacson said.
Lacson pointed out that Sinovac has a five-month head start over other brands from February to June even without applying for an EUA, which the Food and Drug Administration said was due to the suspension of clinical trials in another jurisdiction.
Also, he questioned why Sinovac, a privately-owned Chinese company whose product’s efficacy is at 50 percent to 70 percent, appears to have the edge over China’s state-owned Sinopharm, whose vaccine has a 79 percent to 86 percent efficacy and is used in the United Arab Emirates.
Sinovac costs P3,629 for two doses, making it the second most expensive COVID-19 vaccine, Lacson said.
Without revealing Sinovac’s cost per dose, Galvez said its vaccine was “more affordable” than those from other companies.
But data released by Senate finance committee chair Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara showed that Sinovac is the second most expensive vaccine now available, at P3,629 for two doses.
In comparison, Pfizer’s vaccine, now used in the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries, cost P2,379 for two doses; AstraZeneca’s at P610 for two doses; Moderna’s at a higher P3,904 to P4,504, also for two doses; while Gamaleya’s is at P1,220 for two doses.
Lacson said Sinovac also has a record of suspended clinical trials.
After telling ordinary Filipinos not to be choosy about what COVID vaccine they get, he said the government should apply the same line in expediting the procurement of all qualified and available vaccines.
“To borrow (presidential spokesperson) Secretary Harry Roque Jr.’s words, it should not be choosy in buying vaccines,” he said.
Lacson also observed that government officials seemed prepared to justify their choice of Sinovac, with explanations like they were “taking different pathways,” or that “the Philippines may be at the tail end of the supply chain.
They even said they would advise Sinovac to apply for an EUA, after they were asked how they could close a deal with the Chinese company when it had not even applied for an EUA.
“Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.’s reply that they will advise Sinovac to apply for an EUA--after concluding a contract with it--only made it obvious that Sinovac is really the chosen one,” Lacson said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, citing the results of a new study in Brazil that showed Sinovac’s vaccine had an efficacy rate of 50.4 percent, called on the DOH to reconsider its decision to buy these vaccines.
“Sinovac, with just over 50 percent efficacy, is six times more expensive than AstraZeneca, which in contrast shows a 70-percent efficacy. Sinovac is more expensive yet it has the lowest efficacy. Given these latest findings, we call on the DOH to cancel the purchase of said vaccines,” Pangilinan said in a tweet.
News reports said the Brazil trial results were barely enough for regulatory approval and well below the 78-percent efficacy rate announced last week.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, on the other hand, questioned the announcement of Roque that the Pfizer vaccine, which has a 90 percent efficacy rate, is not an option in the provinces, because they lack the ultra-cold storage facilities that are required.
Hontiveros said she will bring up the issue at the next hearing on Friday.
She also said the Department of Health and the National Task Force on COVID-19 have yet to respond to her question on how to deliver the vaccines to geographically isolated areas.
“I am especially worried because of the bad track record of the DOH in delivering vaccines to regions and areas far-flung from the NCR,” she said.
Also on Wednesday, Local Government Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said most local government units prefer to acquire the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Malaya made the statement after the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 released a list of vaccines available in the market.
Some LGUs that have already signed deals with the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines are the cities of Las Piñas, Mandaluyong, Makati, Manila, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Caloocan, Pasig, Quezon City, San Juan, Taguig, Valenzuela in Metro Manila; the cities of Antipolo, Baguio, Dagupan, Vigan in Luzon; the cities of Bacolod, Iloilo, and Ormoc in the Visayas and the cities of Davao, Oroquieta and Zamboanga in Mindanao.
Malaya added that the NTF provided substantial data that passed through the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as the possible delivery dates of these vaccines.
He added that initially the LGUs were allowed to independently negotiate for the purchase of their vaccines provided that they would coordinate them with the NTF as pharmaceutical firms are prohibited from selling the vaccines directly to the LGUs.
The national government is ready to aid LGUs with meager or not enough funds for the acquisition of COVID-19 vaccines, he said.
The Philippines this week will sign a supply deal for 20 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said.
In November, around 30 local firms signed an agreement for 2.6 million AstraZeneca vaccine jabs. Half of these will be donated to the government, and the rest will go to the companies’ workers.
A second order was placed for an additional 3.7 million to 3.8 million doses, said presidential adviser on entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion.
About 13 million Filipinos will be vaccinated through efforts led by the private sector and local governments, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said on Tuesday.
Aside from AstraZeneca, the government has secured 30 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the Serum Institute of India, and 25 million jabs from China’s Sinovac Biotech.
Authorities are also negotiating for vaccine deals with drug groups Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, he said.