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Gov’t to order 178M doses of vaccines for 90M Filipinos

THE PHILIPPINES will try to order 178 million doses of coronavirus vaccines so it can inoculate more than 90 million Filipinos this year, according to the presidential palace.

“We are not yet counting the children,” presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque said at a televised briefing in Filipino on Tuesday.

The government is in talks for more than 100 million doses with various drug makers worth $1.2 billion and about 40 million doses under a global initiative for equal access worth $84 million, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said at a televised meeting with President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday night.

He said the government was negotiating for more vaccine supplies given the delays in manufacturing and delivery.

“We really expect delays but delay is not our fault because we have the money,” he said. “We are ready.”

The Philippines originally wanted to buy only 148 million doses to inoculate as many as 70 million Filipinos.

Mr. Dominguez said the country got loans worth $1.38 billion from the World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which will be used for vaccine orders.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 1,583 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total to 528,853. The death toll increased by 67 to 10,874, while recoveries climbed by 39 to 487,611, it said in a bulletin.

There were 30,368 active cases, 89% of which were mild, 5.3% did not show symptoms, 2.7% were critical, 2.5% were severe and 0.54% were moderate.

About 7.4 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Jan. 31, according to DoH’s tracker website. The coronavirus has sickened about 104 million and killed about 2.2 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 75.8 million people have recovered, it said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Roque said tensions between the Philippines and China would not affect coronavirus vaccine deals.

“I don’t think so because that has already been a promise made by the Foreign Secretary of China,” presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing on Tuesday.

The government has signed deals with China’s Sinovac BioTech Ltd. for 25 million orders of coronavirus vaccines. China also donated 500,000 doses to the country.

Mr. Roque also said it was difficult for him to keep silent on foreign affairs matters because he speaks for “the chief architect of foreign policy.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. earlier told Mr. Roque to “lay off” after he suggested that the Philippines should sue Beijing at an international court for passing a law letting its coast guard fire at foreign vessels in the South China Sea.

“I am not listening to Harry Roque,” Mr. Locsin tweeted. “Love the guy but he’s not competent in this field. We do not go back to The Hague. We might lose what we won. Harry, lay off.”

Mr. Roque said he was not intruding, adding that he would defer to the Foreign Affairs department.

Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III urged the government to double efforts in educating Filipinos about its vaccination program both in mainstream and social media.

A nationwide information drive should focus on the benefits of getting vaccinated against the coronavirus, he said in a statement.

“Many are afraid to get vaccinated because of rumors that vaccines are ineffective against COVID-19,” he said in Filipino. “The vaccination system is also unclear to the public.”

A Pulse Asia poll last year found that nearly 50% of Filipino adults would shun coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines, citing safety concerns.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the emergency use of Pfizer, Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc’s  vaccines in the Philippines. The Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective, while the one from AstraZeneca has a 70% efficacy rate. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Charmaine A. Tadalan

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