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Gov’t close to finishing vaccine agreement with China’s Sinovac

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

THE GOVERNMENT is expected to finalize a procurement deal for coronavirus vaccines with Chinese drug maker Sinovac Biotech Ltd. this week, according to its vaccine czar.

“We want to finalize the final negotiations so that we can firm up the other terms and we are looking at the exact time of distribution,” Carlito Galvez, Jr., the chief enforcer of anti-COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) efforts, told a news briefing on Monday.

He added that negotiations continue so the government could meet its March 2021 target to get the vaccines. The government also expects to get a second tranche of vaccines in the latter part of 2021.

Sinovac is the government’s top pick for vaccine orders for its mass immunization program that will start next year. The government seeks to immunize 20 million Filipinos yearly in the next three years.

The government is also in talks with nine more vaccine developers. Other than Sinovac, the Philippines is looking to import vaccines from two other Chinese vaccine makers that are in advanced stages of clinical trials — the China National Pharmaceutical Group Co., Ltd. (Sinopharm) and CanSino Biologics.

“The Chinese have announced they are ramping up production,” Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago L. Sta. Romana said at the same briefing “They want 500 million doses within the next 12 months.”

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 1,339 coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to 450,733.

The death toll rose to 8,757 after 24 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 41 to 418,723, it said in a bulletin.

There were 23,253 active cases, 85.1% of which were mild, 5.7% did not show symptoms, 5.9% were critical, 3% were severe and 0.32% were moderate.

Quezon City reported the highest number of new cases at 147, followed by Davao City at 124, Rizal at 65, Laguna at 50 and Manila at 49.

DoH said six duplicates had been removed from the tally, while two recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Nine laboratories failed to submit their data on Dec. 13, it added.

In a separate statement, the agency said there were now 192 licensed COVID-19 testing laboratories nationwide.

About 5.9 million Filipinos have been tested. The positivity rate was at 8.7% as of Dec. 12, it said.

Meanwhile, five participants in the coronavirus clinical trials of the Japanese anti-flu drug Avigan have completed their trials, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told an online news briefing.

She said 16 participants had been recruited as of Dec. 7, nine of whom were ongoing and two withdrew. Patient recruitment continues, she added.

The clinical trials for Avigan started on Nov. 20.

There are four participating hospitals for the trials. These are the Philippine General Hospital, Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital, Quirino Memorial Medical Center and Sta. Ana Hospital.

Ms. Vergeire last month said the sample size for the Avigan trial had been expanded from 96 to 144 and the criteria were eased to recruit more patients.

Japan in April said it would send the vaccine made by Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co., Ltd. to 38 countries, including the Philippines after clinical trials.

Also on Monday, the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) said company chief executives were cautiously optimistic about economic prospects.

MAP President Francisco E. Lim, citing a September survey, said 59% of them were confident about revenue prospects in the next 12 months and 83% expected the economy to recover in one to three years.

“The roll-out of the vaccines, especially if their acquisition and distribution are accelerated, will certainly boost this confidence and hasten the economic recovery of our country,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

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