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Gov’t eyes 80M coronavirus vaccine doses

By Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Charmaine A. Tadalan, Reporters

THE PHILIPPINE government expects millions of coronavirus vaccine doses to arrive next year as it continues negotiations with drug companies for supply.

The state is in talks with British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc for 20 million doses that will be allotted to the government, and 10 million more for the private sector, vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. said at a televised Cabinet meeting on Saturday

“For the Western-based vaccines, the earliest is May,” he said.

The government is also signing a contract with Serum Institute of India Ptv. Ltd. by January, which had committed 30 million doses for the Philippines, Mr. Galvez said.

He also said they were in talks with US drug company Pfizer, Inc., while Moderna, Inc. has agreed to ship 20 million doses. Pfizer and Moderna are frontrunners in vaccine development, both reporting more than 90% efficacy rate.

“If we will get Novavax, Astrazeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and also Moderna, we might have more or less 80 million doses,” Mr. Galvez said.

Moderna, Inc. has agreed to fast-track the shipment of coronavirus vaccines to the Philippines, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said on Sunday.

“Moderna on board and accelerating huge shipment,” he tweeted, citing Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel G. Romualdez. “Everything’s falling back into place.”

“We will have a complete range of vaccines from least effective to most available for everyone to choose from,” he added.

Mr. Locsin last week said a government official had “dropped the ball” in negotiations to get 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Inc.

Mr. Romualdez later said the Philippine government could secure as many as 25 million doses from Moderna and Arcturus Therapeutics Holdings, Inc.

This comes ahead of a plan to convene the Senate committee of the whole on Jan. 11 to inquire into the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

Mr. Galvez said they negotiated with Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology last week for 25 million doses, hoping that they close a deal by January and have these produced by February.

He also said that they were negotiating with Chinese drugmaker Sinovac Biotech Ltd., disputing claims that they were prioritizing the Chinese company.

“It is a portfolio. Our first contract will be with AstraZeneca,” Mr. Galvez said in mixed English and Filipino. Next is Covovax vaccine from Novavax, Inc. and Serum Institute of India Ptv. Ltd., then Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, he added.

Moderna, Gamaleya and Sinovac might follow suit.

The government is aiming to vaccinate 20 million people yearly in the next three years.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte has signed an executive order allowing the local Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) to issue an emergency use authorization for coronavirus drugs and vaccines.

This will cut the approval process to 21 days from six months.

Presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque on Saturday said Pfizer had applied for emergency use in the Philippines. The US has approved its vaccine for emergency use.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health (DoH) is preparing for the rollout of the vaccines for priority groups, Napoleon L. Arevalo, director of the agency’s Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, told an online news briefing last week. Vaccinations could start in April, he said.

Health workers, senior citizens and jail personnel would be prioritized, Mr. Arevalo said.

Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said at the same briefing the poor would also be prioritized as ordered by President Rodrito R. Duterte.

He said health authorities would monitor potential adverse effects after inoculation.

“We really just have to monitor these as closely as we can  and most importantly, make sure that the surveillance is adequate to be able to identify people who might be developing acute or latent side effects,” Mr. Duque said.

Congress has set aside P2.5 billion under the Department of Health budget for 2021 for the immunization program and P70 billion more in unprogrammed funds for procurement, distribution and storage.

There is also a P10-billion standby fund, bringing the total vaccine allocation to P82.5 billion.

Meanwhile, Senator Francis N. Pangilinan urged the government to take decisive actions in preventing a new coronavirus strain from entering Philippine borders.

“It’s time authorities take swift action because all it takes for the new variant to spread is one person getting on a plane and landing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA),” he said in a statement.

He also asked the Department of Health (DoH) and an inter-agency task force (IATF) to keep the public informed to avoid causing fear or panic and monitor developments constantly.

DoH reported 883 coronavirus infections on Sunday, bringing the total to 469,886.

The death toll rose to 9,109 after 42 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 7,635 to 438,678, it said in a bulletin.

There were 22,099 active cases, 80.2% of which were mild, 9.9% did not show symptoms, 6.2% were critical, 3.2% were severe and 0.43% were moderate.

Rizal reported the highest number of new cases at 66, followed by Quezon City at 50, Benguet at 47, Davao City at 42 and Manila at 35.

DoH said two duplicates had been removed from the tally, while 10 recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Fifteen laboratories failed to submit their data on Dec. 26, it said.

Mr. Duterte on Saturday said he would cancel face-to-face pilot classes in January after a coronavirus strain caused cases to soar in the United Kingdom.

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