Philippines sets aside P20-B to vaccinate 20-M vs COVID-19
Philippines sets aside P20-B to vaccinate 20-M vs COVID-19
Prinz Magtulis ( - July 31, 2020 - 10:30am

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE 1 10:54 a.m., July 31) — Faced with a resurgence of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19), the Philippines is looking ahead and allotting P20 billion to be among the first-takers of vaccines for the deadly disease once they are approved for use by December, officials said on Friday.

The plan is for the government to spearhead the vaccination of a "minimum" of 20 million people, equivalent to 18.5% of the present 108 million population, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said in recorded televised briefing.

"We have a plan and we can execute it...Certainly late this year, if it is already available, we can already buy it," he said.

Priority will be given to the "poorest of the poor," who can access the vaccine for free. Dominguez suggested the rest can get immunization at a cost between P500-P1,000, depending on doses required as well as logistics costs that may be topped up by health providers on vaccine costs.

For the government side, President Rodrigo Duterte said he will task the military to be the "implementing arm" for what is expected to be a broad vaccination program, but offered few details on how exactly this would be enforced.

For one, only healthcare workers are allowed to administer vaccines. Later on his speech, the chief executive clarified nurses in "nearest police stations" may be tapped for the immunization drive, a plan that is likely to face hurdles given the current shortage in health workers no less than the health department has admitted.

"The backbone of my administration is the uniformed personnel," Duterte said.

Nonetheless, Friday's televised briefing provided some idea on the government's optimism that a COVID-19 vaccine is just around the corner. Dominguez cited four vaccines currently in advanced stages of development, two of which are in China, while one each is being studied in the UK and the US. 

Duterte, in the briefing, repeated pronouncements that China, where COVID-19 started last year, committed that the Philippines will be among the first countries to get the vaccine once marketable. In the UK, AstraZeneca PLC, a pharmaceutical firm, is also setting sights to market a vaccine by the fourth quarter.

But Dominguez said the health department would be the ultimate decider on which vaccine is best to use before any procurement is approved. "The financing is available for this program," he reiterated.

Fund sources

In the face of ballooning COVID-19 costs, Dominguez said the Philippines can finance a large scale vaccine procurement. The initial P20 billion, he said, will be borrowed by the Philippine International Trading Corp., a government corporation, from state banks, Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines.

The health department would then pay for the loans directly to banks through the agency's budget where the Executive department is expected to insert funds for vaccination. The government is in the middle of preparing its proposed 2021 budget to be submitted to Congress on or before Aug. 26.

The Duterte administration has come under heavy fire over its inefficient handling of the health crisis, not to mention untrusted case figures from the health department.

On Thursday, health officials came under heavy fire anew after reporting a sudden spike in recoveries from COVID-19 by designating people with mild or no symptoms as healed 14 days from onset of symptoms or testing.

The supposed "mass" recoveries were highlighted on the daily report on COVID-19 cases, which actually showed an additional 3,954 infections in one day. Most new cases were from Metro Manila, which on Friday was announced by Duterte would stay under a looser general community quarantine for the next 15 days. 

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