President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday reversed the policy of allowing people—including frontline health workers—to choose their brand of COVID-19 vaccine, saying no jab was superior to any other.
“If we allow them to choose, and then there is a study that one is far more superior than the other, then we will have a problem because now. There will be a line for one vaccine or the other. It is discriminatory,” the President said in a public address late Wednesday night. “Nobody should be allowed to choose.”
Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., also chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) Against Covid-19, said the new policy will be implemented immediately.
“The problem with some people is they are somewhat choosy, they have a Western orientation. But we will ensure that your directive will be implemented,” Galvez said.
Galvez admitted that 20 to 30 percent of health workers are hesitant about getting the China-made Sinovac vaccine, and prefer to be inoculated with Pfizer or Moderna from the United States.
Under the new policy, they, too, will have no choice.
Galvez said the Philippines will start receiving the bulk of COVID 19 vaccines of up to 7 million doses this month.
“The good news is that the delivery this May will increase from 4 million doses up to 7 million doses. That’s a huge volume, Mr. President, because the COVAX facility may also be delivering Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines,” Galvez said.
Galvez assured the President that enough doses dedicated for the vaccines’ second shots would arrive on time.
Earlier, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the lack of choice in the brand of vaccine to be administered had been the policy from the start, and that only frontline health workers were allowed to choose.
“That has been our policy from the very start. You can’t act like you’re in a restaurant and say ‘I want this, I want that.’ No. Whatever is there, that is the vaccine we will give you and only front-liners have the luxury of choosing their preferred brand,” he said in Filipino.
Besides Sputnik V, the Philippines has two other vaccine brands in its inventory that have been approved for emergency use, namely “CoronaVac” from China’s Sinovac Biotech and “AstraZeneca” from a British-Swedish manufacturing company of the same name.
Galvez, meanwhile, said the Philippines has not been left behind in COVID-19 vaccinations and is now third in Southeast Asia.
As of May 4, a total of 2,065,235 Filipinos have been inoculated with at least one dose against COVID-19, with 320,586 persons fully vaccinated.
Of the total, 132,948 are senior citizens, 180,315 are persons with co-morbidities, and 965,960 are health care workers. Among them, 198,000 already received second doses.
He said according to a Bloomberg report, the Philippines was no. 3 after Indonesia and Singapore in terms of rolling out vaccines.
Galvez said the government has already deployed over half of its 2.5 million doses of Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, meanwhile, called for public-private partnerships to develop and produce vaccines and other medical requirements to help end the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic.
Dominguez said during the Asian Development Bank Governors Seminar on Monday that this kind of partnership would ensure that such initiatives are efficiently implemented by bringing in the expertise and best practices of the private sector into the picture, while the government takes on the role of regulator and guide to “moderate corporate greed.”
“The private sector brings in efficiency, and frankly in my experience as a government minister, efficiency is not number one in [the government’s] DNA. So, I think it should be a partnership, where the goals and the profits – the return on investment – are very, very clearly defined,” said Dominguez, the governor for the Philippines on the ADB Board.
The governor for India and the alternate governor for China in the ADB Board supported Dominguez’s statements, saying that this has been the case in her country.
On Thursday, the head of the Food and Drug Administration said applications for full registration of COVID-19 vaccines could be filed in the Philippines this year.
The Philippines has so far only granted emergency use authorization to vaccine candidates of seven drugmakers: Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Gamaleya Institute, Sinovac Biotech, Johnson & Johnson, and Bharat Biotech, and Moderna.
“Before you get a certificate of product registration (CPR) you have to complete your phase 3 trial. Personally, I expect the earliest they can apply for CPR is late this year or early next year,” FDA Director-General Eric Domingo told ANC’s Headstart.
The Philippines is aiming to inoculate 50 million to 70 million people against COVID-19 by the end of the year to achieve herd immunity. As of Tuesday, it has administered 2.065 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Wednesday, the Department of Health said it is studying COVID-19 vaccines that may be administered to children.
US pharmaceutical giants Pfizer, BioNtech, and Novavax have been developing jabs that may be administered to kids under 12.