Duterte assures vax money, but doubts access to supply

President Rodrigo Duterte assured the public the government has enough funds to pay for COVID-19 vaccines but admitted the Philippines does not have the same influence that European countries have when it comes to gaining access to these vaccines.

In his public address, Duterte said the country’s greatest disadvantage is that it is not as rich as Western countries that have already pre-ordered 80 percent of the global vaccine supply.

However, the President assured the public that vaccine doses are forthcoming.

“We have funds to pay for vaccines. The Asian Development Bank as well as the World Bank is lending us money to pay for the vaccines,” he said.

“Just keep your faith in government. Anyway, it’s Secretary Carlito Galvez’s job to secure the vaccine,” Duterte said.

The government is hoping to secure at least 148 million doses, aside from the 40 million doses that will come from the World Health Organization-led Covax Facility, to inoculate an initial 50 million to 70 million Filipinos this year.

In the President’s televised meeting with Cabinet members, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the government has targeted about $1.3 billion in loan financing from multilateral lenders, which includes the Philippines’ contribution of $84 million to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility, to ensure COVID-19 vaccines for more than 70 million Filipinos.

Dominguez reported to Duterte that the government was ensuring that funds for more than enough vaccine doses were available to cover the 70 million adults who should be inoculated against the coronavirus.

The loans negotiated with the Asian Development Bank, World Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will cover 106 million doses valued at around $1.2 billion, while the COVAX Facility will deliver another 40 million doses of the vaccine, Dominguez said.

The total of 146 million doses will vaccinate 76 million adults or more than 100 percent of the country’s adult population, Dominguez said.

Dominguez said the government is pursuing a three-pronged strategy on vaccine procurement, comprising the multilateral approach, which includes accessing financing from the ADB, WB and AIIB, and taking part in the COVAX Facility; partnering with the private sector; and working with the local government units (LGUs).

Under this strategy, the private sector and LGUs will pay for their respective vaccine purchases.

“These approaches are independent of each other, but they are coordinated, so we will have enough doses to vaccinate 100 percent of the adult population,” he said.

Dominguez said that about 40 million of the population who are below 18 years of age cannot be vaccinated, leaving about 70 million adults covered by the Duterte administration’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

Together with the private sector, the Philippines is expected to get a total of about 178 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, good for 92 million individuals to ensure that 100 percent of the country’s adult population gets inoculated, he said.

The President criticized his critics for claiming corruption in the government’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement, urging Filipinos not to believe in their false accusations.

“Do not be so gullible and just believe in their talk about corruption left and right. It starts with the big bang and ends with a whimper,” he said.

He also promised to prove that vaccine procurement and rollout will be done “in accordance with the rule of law.”

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) director general Eric Domingo, meanwhile, said it is good to have “a basket of choices” when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines.

Recipients should be able to choose a vaccine best suited for them, taking into consideration their age and comorbidity, he told the ANC news channel.

“We just have to be objective. You’ve seen it rolled out. You’ve seen it used. You’ve seen the experience. If there’s no severe adverse events and side effects, then it’s something to consider,” he said.

Domingo’s statement ran counter to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s remark on Jan.11 that Filipinos can’t be choosy when they avail of the government’s free COVID-19 vaccination.

Domingo said mRNA COVID-19 vaccines like the ones from Pfizer and Moderna, which are completely laboratory-synthesized, recently showed the possibility of severe allergic reactions.

“(That’s what) we have to watch out for. (If you have) a history of severe allergy, maybe this is not the vaccine for you,” he said.

He added that for most vaccines, the second dose usually has stronger side effects than the first.

Domingo said the first shot introduces the body to the vaccine for it to start generating antibodies in the first few weeks after the vaccination. So, when it comes to the second dose, immunologic reaction is stronger, he said.

In Germany, AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which is a viral vector vaccine that uses inactivated virus, is not advised for people above 65 years old.

However, Domingo said Germany is the only country that considered such a contraindication. He said the measure was put in place because AstraZeneca’s clinical trials were mostly composed of other age groups.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has asked senators to craft a law for the indemnification of Filipinos who might suffer adverse effects of vaccines supposed to protect them from COVID-19.

He urged lawmakers to consider including this in the third emergency law meant to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, proposals for which have been filed in both houses of Congress.

On Sunday, vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. announced that the Philippines will receive at least 5.6 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca’s vaccines within the first quarter of 2021.

In other developments:

* Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the government should carry out a nationwide information dissemination campaign to convince people to have themselves vaccinated against COVID-19.

* In the House, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate warned that the national government was abdicating its central role in the COVID-19 vaccine program, and that this could hurt the country’s ability to achieve herd immunity. “The national government is apparently only focusing now on the choosing and procurement of the vaccines but left the entire implementation to the LGUs, and private sector, including hiring of personnel and setting-up vaccination sites,” Zarate said. But not all LGUs are like Manila, Quezon City and Pasig, which have the resources and who are well prepared to implement the immunization program.

* The FDA will meet with US drugmaker Moderna on Wednesday to discuss findings on its COVID-19 vaccine Domingo said on Tuesday. The drug firm has yet to apply for emergency use authorization (EUA) in the Philippines. He also said that the Chinese company Sinovac has submitted Phase 3 clinical trial results of its COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use authorization. With Willie Casas, Macon Ramos-Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz

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