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Gov’t seeks $325-M loan for vaccines

THE government is seeking a $325-million (P15.63 billion) loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to purchase coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines, ADB Country Director for the Philippines Kelly Bird said on Monday.

The ADB launched earlier this month a $9-billion Asia Pacific Vaccine Access Facility (APVAX) to support developing countries in procuring and delivering COVID-19 vaccines.

“At the moment, the government has requested approximately $325 million from the first component of the (APVAX) facility, from the rapid response component, and that’s dedicated for the procurement of the vaccine,” Mr. Bird said at a Palace briefing on Monday.

He added that the maximum allowed financing for the Philippines under the APVAX facility is “between $400-$500 million” for vaccine procurement.

“We are in close discussions with the Department of Finance and the Department of Health and we aim to bring the Philippine loan proposal to our board for formal consideration very very quickly,” Mr. Bird said.

To avail themselves of loans under APVAX, Mr. Bird said countries must assess their needs and have a national vaccination allocation plan. He said the plan should include “which citizens will get the vaccine and when.”

The government aims to immunize 20 million Filipinos against COVID-19 annually in the next three years.

ADB will also look into the COVID-19 vaccine that the country is targeting to procure to gauge whether it can qualify for the loan.

Mr. Bird said the vaccine would be eligible for financing if it is selected for procurement of participating countries of the COVAX pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools of the World Health Organization (WHO). The vaccine manufacturer must also be prequalified by the WHO, and is authorized by a “stringent regulatory authority” for manufacturing.

“For example, Pfizer has been qualified for emergency use in the US and in the UK, so clearly Pfizer will be qualified under that [third criteria],” he said.

In November, the government in partnership with private sector players inked a deal with AstraZeneca for 2.6 million vaccine doses worth P700 million. The deal was fully funded by businesses and is expected to reach the country by the second quarter of next year, to inoculate about 1.5 million Filipinos.

Last week, National Task Force Against the COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. said they were expecting to finalize a deal to procure vaccines from Chinese drug maker Sinovac Biotech Ltd. The government is also in talks with the Serum Institute of India Ptv. Ltd. for the supply of 30 million doses of Covovax.

Aside from a possible vaccine loan, Mr. Bird said the ADB may also provide technical assistance to developing countries for capacity support, monitoring, and surveillance of the vaccine procurement and distribution.

Outside the vaccine loan prospect, the Philippines already accessed a total of $4.2 billion from the ADB this year for pandemic response as well as some infrastructure projects. — Luz Wendy T. Noble

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