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Russia can make vaccine by January

RUSSIA could start producing coronavirus vaccines for the Philippines as early as January, according to the Philippine ambassador there.

“It is subject to doing our own due diligence on it, but they can start producing for us,” Philippine Ambassador to Russia Carlos D. Sorreta told an online news briefing on Monday.

He added that Russia was looking at co-production agreements with other countries. The Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Science and Technology (DoST) are in talks with the Russian government about vaccine development, he added.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines in Russia were being used during emergencies, Mr. Sorreta said, adding that the vaccines were under third stage trials and have 40,000 participants.

There have been no reports of any adverse effects in patients who got their first and second shots of the vaccine, he said.

Meanwhile, a senator on Monday said Congress should allot at least P100 billion in next year’s national budget to fund vaccine orders for the coronavirus.

The government’s P4.-5-trillion spending plan only provides for an P18-billion budget for the vaccines.

“Shouldn’t we provide the appropriation, if not in the program, in the unprogrammed fund of at least P100 to 150 billion because that should provide confidence to the people?” Senator Ralph G. Recto said during Monday’s session.

The lawmaker said the government would need about P50 billion for the vaccines, which would cost more if cold chain facilities are included.

“The distribution cost will probably be twice more than the cost of the vaccine,” Mr. Recto said. “If we appropriate less, the Executive will go back to us and then it might too late again,” he said in Filipino.

Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, who heads the Finance committee chairman, said he agrees with the proposal “subject to the amount.” “We must provide that flexibility given the highly uncertain nature of the times.”

Mr. Recto also proposed to extend the validity of the appropriations provision under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, and some items under the 2020 national budget. The government has released P82.4 billion out of the P140-billion funding under the law, which will expire on Dec. 19. Mr. Angara agreed in response.

“We extended the validity of 2018 and 2019 budgets and we are in a much worse shape today,” he said. “I would definitely be agreeable to something like that.”

Mr. Recto also raised the need to pass a third Bayanihan law to help typhoon victims. Mr. Angara agreed with the proposal but said there might not be enough time to pass the measure unless a special session is called.

The Department of Health reported 1,738 coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to 409,574.

The death toll rose by seven to 7,839, while recoveries increased by 45 to 374,366, it said in a bulletin.

There were, 27,369 active cases, 83% of which were mild, 8.5% did not show symptoms, 5.3% were critical, 3% were severe and 0.2% were moderate.

Davao City reported the highest number of new cases at 140, followed by Cavite at 117, Rizal at 89, Laguna at 87 and Batangas at 79.

DoH said two duplicates had been removed from the tally, while six cases previously tagged as recovered were reclassified as deaths. Nine laboratories failed to submit their data on Nov. 15, it said.

The Philippine government earlier said it was considering orders for 24 million units of coronavirus vaccines and may start inoculating Filipinos by May.

The vaccines might be ordered in the first quarter, said Carlito Galvez, Jr., who is in charge of the state’s vaccine import and distribution program.

The inoculation program might start as late as the end of next year if vaccine development and manufacturing are delayed, he said.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte last month said the government had funds to buy coronavirus vaccines, but it needs more so the entire population of more than 100 million could be inoculated.

He said he would look for more funds so all Filipinos could be vaccinated. The President said he was okay with vaccines developed either by Russia or China. 

Mr. Duterte said he had spoken with outgoing Russian Ambassador Igor A. Khovaev and was told that Russia intends to set up a pharmaceutical company in the Philippines that will make the vaccines available here.

He said soldiers and the police will be among the first ones to be vaccinated, along with poor Filipinos.

The coronavirus has sickened about 54.9 million and killed 1.3 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 38.2 million people have recovered, it said. Gillian M. Cortez, Charmaine A. Tadalan and Vann Marlo M. Villegas

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