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Senator says gov’t likely to miss target for vaccine orders

THE GOVERNMENT would probably miss its target of ordering 148 million doses of coronavirus vaccines by the year-end, according to a senator.

“The arrival of the vaccines is not even definite,” Senator Franklin M. Drilon said in a statement on Tuesday.

“How can they say that they will be able to purchase 148 million doses by the end of 2021 when up to now, we haven’t given any emergency use authorization to any vaccine and we have not been able to raise, through loans, all the needed amount for the purchase of the vaccines?” he asked.

The government plans to buy more than 140 billion vaccine doses to inoculate at least 50 million Filipinos this year. 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.

About 40 million doses will come from the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility for 20 million to 30 million people, he told senators at a hearing on Monday.

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 coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines to all countries.

“The plan is good on paper,” Mr. Drilon said. “The plan is filled with uncertainties and it leaves too much to chance,” he added, noting that targets could be achieved without the restrictions on local government units and private companies to negotiate directly with drug companies.

Senators have also flagged Filipinos’ unwillingness to get inoculated. A Pulse Asia poll found that nearly 50% of Filipinos did not want to get vaccinated.

“Transparency is a key driver of public confidence in vaccines,” Mr. Drilon said. “The lack of access to information fuels doubts and confusion among the public.”

Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian said in a separate statement this hesitancy could prolong the delays in the resumption of face-to-face classes.

Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said statements from the Palace saying Filipinos won’t be able to choose which vaccines they will get would add to the public doubt.

Local governments may order coronavirus vaccines through a multilateral agreement, presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque told an online news briefing on Tuesday, adding that the central government was not building a monopoly on procurement.

Several local government units (LGUs) have sealed tripartite agreements with the National Government for vaccines from British drug maker AstraZeneca Plc.

“Local governments can buy vaccines, but this is through entering a multilateral agreement for the advanced purchase — and this is for the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

He said the multilateral deal would involve the National Government and Department of Health (DoH). Under the deal, local governments will shoulder the cost of the vaccines and plan their distribution, he added.

“All entities should have the freedom to bid and purchase volumes of vaccine supply based on prevailing market prices without interference from the National Government,” InfraWatchPH convenor Terry L. Ridon said in Facebook Messenger chat on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the National Government might tap the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and World Bank for $1.3 billion worth of loans to plug the funding needs of its mass vaccination program against the coronavirus, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III told an online forum on Tuesday.

The mass vaccination program targets to cover at least 60 million Filipinos this year with a budget of P72.5 billion. The P70 billion is under unprogrammed funds, while the rest is under the Health department’s budget.

Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said health frontliners in the capital region would be prioritized for vaccines developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd.

Those on the government’s priority list such as health workers, senior citizens and indigents are free to reject the coronavirus shot, he said.

“We will have to have them sign some sort of waiver or an understanding that they understand the implications of them waiving their privilege to get vaccinated,” he added.

Filipinos living in certain provinces might miss out on the vaccine developed by British drug maker Pfizer, Inc. because of the lack of ultracold-storage facilities in some areas, presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque, Jr. said.

“The public can’t choose any vaccine because the Pfizer vaccine requires -70 degrees celsius,” he told an online news briefing. “This means it can only be for Manila, Cebu and Davao, which have cold-storage facilities.”

Reports showed that the Pfizer vaccine, which had been authorized by the World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use, has the highest efficacy against the COVID-19 virus.

The Sinovac vaccine, known as CoronaVac, showed a general efficacy of less than 60% in its late-stage trial in Brazil. The Chinese vaccine does not require ultracold storage.

“All vaccines, as long as they pass the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are proven safe and effective,” Mr. Roque said. The brand is not important, he added.

Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the World Health Organization representative in the Philippines, told a separate briefing the government should solve Filipinos’ vaccine hesitancy through “clear and transparent” data. — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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