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Government in final talks with drug makers for vaccine orders

THE PHILIPPINE government is finalizing talks on coronavirus vaccine orders and might start the rollout next month, according to vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr.

“It is expected that we can start our rollout this first quarter in February, with an early rollout possibly by the COVAX vaccine either by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, or Sinovac,” he told a Senate hearing on the state’s vaccination program on Monday.

About 40 million doses will come from the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility for 20 million to 30 million people, Mr. Galvez told senators.

COVAX, co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization (WHO), aims to ensure the availability of COVID-19 vaccines to all countries.

“The Philippines stands to receive fully subsidized doses for 20% of the country’s population or roughly 20 million Filipinos through the COVAX facility, which can be deployed earlier this first quarter, more or less February,” he said.

Mr. Galvez said the main bulk of the vaccines would be distributed by the third and fourth quarter, mostly from US biotechnology company Novavax and Serum Institute of India.

The government on Saturday signed a term sheet with Serum Institute and its local partner Faberco Life Sciences, Inc. for the supply of 30 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine Covovax.

Mr. Galvez also said the government seeks to buy 148 million doses of vaccines from seven manufacturers and inoculate 50 to 70 million Filipinos this year.

They are negotiating for vaccine supply with UK-based AstraZeneca Plc, Pfizer, Inc., China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd., Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, and Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

Also on Monday, presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque said the Philippines had secured 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines developed by Sinovac.

“The vaccines will arrive in the Philippines next month,” he told an online news briefing in mixed English and Filipino. He said the country would receive 50,000 doses in February. The rest of the doses are expected to arrive by year-end, he added.

Mr. Roque said the first 50,000 doses from Sinovac is on top of 15,000 shots that would be used for clinical trials. This means that by February, at least 65,000 people will have received the vaccine, he added.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 2,052 coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to 489,736.

The death toll rose by 11 to 9,416, while recoveries increased by 10 to 458,206, it said in a bulletin. 

There were 22,114 active cases, 84.3% of which were mild, 5.6% did not show symptoms, 6.2% were critical, 3.4% were severe and 0.58% were moderate.

Davao City reported the highest number of new cases at 140, followed by Quezon City at 93, Cavite at 87, Laguna at 83 and Manila at 67.

The coronavirus has sickened about 90.7 million and killed 1.9 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 64.8 million people have recovered, it said.

The Finance department in a Facebook post on Monday detailed where it would get the P140.5-billion budget to buy enough coronavirus to cover 100 million Filipinos.

About 34% or P48 billion will be funded by “low-cost and long-term loans,” P20 billion through state-owned banks and other government-owned and -controlled corporations, and P2.5 billion from the budget of the Health department.

Finance Assistant Secretary and spokeswoman Paola Sherina A. Alvarez told CNN Philippines on Friday state-run Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK) and the Development Bank of the Philippines would provide the loans.

The Finance department has also tapped multilateral lenders to fund the government’s mass vaccination program. It will borrow $325 million (P15.63 billion) from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and another $300 million (P14.4 billion) from the World Bank.

“We also have other possible sources, including bilateral loans and grants with countries where the vaccines are being produced or where they will originate,” Ms. Alvarez said.

As of Dec. 15, the government had raised $13.364 billion (P642 billion) through foreign borrowings to help fund its pandemic response.

Congress might have to increase funding for the government’s vaccine program Mr. Galvez told senators at Monday’s hearing.

He also urged lawmakers to pass a measure that will waive Customs duty and value-added tax on imported vaccines to prevent delays at points of entry.

The government has allotted P2.5 billion under the DoH’s 2021 budget and P70 billion in unprogrammed funds for vaccines. About P10 billion will provided by a stimulus law.

“The P70 billion along with the COVAX contribution will be sufficient to fund around 140 billion doses of the vaccine,” Finance Undersecretary Mark Dennis Y.C. Joven told the hearing.

He added that the remaining P12.5 billion would be used to finance the rollout, including the distribution and logistics.

Mr. Galvez said additional funding would be needed in case vaccine makers offer better supplies. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Gillian M. Cortez, Beatrice M. Laforga and Charmaine A. Tadalan

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