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25M people may get vaccinated next year

By Gillian M. Cortez and Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporters

THE DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH) plans to vaccinate as many as 25 million people against the coronavirus next year, the agency’s chief said on Monday.

It also expects a large portion of the Philippines’ more than 100 million population to become immune to the virus by 2023 based on herd immunity, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III told an online news briefing.

The vaccine doesn’t have to be given to all Filipinos based on herd immunity, when a large portion of the population becomes immune to the disease, making its spread unlikely.

“We might roll out the partial vaccination plan by 2021 and we are targeting to vaccinate 20 to 25 million people based on our prioritization list,” Mr. Duque said in Filipino.

At least 60 million Filipinos are expected to get vaccinated by as late as 2023, he added.

In the past, as many as 70% of the population had to be immunized to protect the entire population from a virus, DoH said.

The government’s mass vaccination program could start as early as June 2021, Jaime C. Montoya, executive director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, told the same briefing.

An ethics committee from the Science and Technology department is reviewing applications for clinical trials from Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and Clover Biopharmaceuticals. The agency’s expert panel earlier approved the applications.

Once approved, clinical trials for their vaccines could start by December or January, Mr. Montoya said.

Three other drug makers have applied for clinical trials — Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca Plc.

FDA Director-General Rolando Enrique D. Domingo earlier said drug makers don’t have to conduct clinical trials here. They just have to register for product approval by the FDA.

Moderna, Inc. had informed Science and Technology officials that it does not plan to hold clinical trials here for a coronavirus vaccine it was developing. The company claims the drug is 94.5% effective. Pfizer, which claims its vaccine is 95% effective, also does not plan to conduct clinical trials in the Philippines.

DoH reported 1,773 coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to 431,630.

The death toll rose to 8,392 after 19 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 44 to 398,658, it said in a bulletin.

There were 24,580 active cases, 83.5% of which were mild, 7.5% did not show symptoms, 5.7% were critical, 3% were severe and 0.31% were moderate.

Rizal reported the highest number of new cases at 104, followed by Cavite at 99, Negros Occidental at 88, Davao City at 79 and Laguna at 72.

DoH said seven duplicates had been removed from the tally, while six recoveries were reclassified as deaths. Eleven laboratories failed to submit their data on Nov. 29, it added.

The coronavirus has sickened about 63.1 million and killed 1.5 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization.

Also on Monday, health experts urged the public to hold activities outdoors during the holidays for better air circulation and limit interactions to avoid coronavirus infections.

Antonio Dans, convenor of the Health Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), told an online news briefing people should limit celebrations within the household.

If they can’t avoid going out, activities should be held outdoors where there is enough ventilation, he said. People should also eat at restaurants with tables outside the building.

People should observe physical distancing and wear face masks and shields, Mr. Dans said. Human interactions should be limited to less than 30 minutes, he added. “The shorter the time, the better.”

The presidential palace has said President Rodrigo R. Duterte would allow the emergency use of coronavirus vaccines, which would cut the approval process for drugs approved in countries where these were developed.

The President would issue an executive order for the emergency vaccine use, which allows local use after 21 days, shorter than the usual six months required for verification.

Mr. Duterte had also approved advanced orders for COVID-19 vaccines to ensure there is supply for the Philippines, vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. said.

Mr. 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.

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