President Rodrigo Roa Duterte expressed hope for the availability of a vaccine against COVID-19 during a meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) Thursday night at the Malago Clubhouse inside the Presidential Security Group compound at Malacañang.
AFP/Nicolas Asfouri
20 million poorest Pinoys to get free COVID-19 vaccine
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - August 1, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte unveiled yesterday a P20-billion plan to provide free vaccines for at least 20 million poor Filipinos who would be prioritized once the vaccine becomes available, he hopes by yearend, even as he chided critics who claim that his administration has no credible roadmap to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Duterte expressed hope for the availability of a vaccine against COVID-19 during a meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) Thursday night at the Malago Clubhouse inside the Presidential Security Group compound at Malacañang.

The President also emphasized that the poor and marginalized sectors of society would be the first to get the shots.

Duterte said he wanted the vaccines provided free for 20 million Filipinos who are considered poor, as well as members of the uniformed services.

“This is my guarantee, the list of people who will be given the vaccines first will be those who received assistance before, they are the first in the list who will benefit,” he said, as well as “those in the hospitals, yung mga sick or dying.”

As commander-in-chief, Duterte also directed members of the military and the police to take the lead in the distribution of the vaccines to the 20 million target out of about 110 million population of the Philippines.

“And also my military and my police because I need a strong backbone. The backbone of my administration is the uniformed personnel of government,” he said.

The President did not mention whether medical frontline workers would also be given priority for the initial vaccination program for the coronavirus disease.

He said the rich and the affluent are not in the priority list for the initial free vaccines since they can afford to pay for their vaccines and medication.

Duterte took offense at a newspaper headline questioning his roadmap for the pandemic, details of which were allegedly lacking during his fifth State of the National Address (SONA) last July 27.

“The roadmap… if it’s about me, I do not read. ‘Duterte, where is your roadmap?’ I could not have uttered a single sentence about roadmap to recovery kasi ang una talaga diyan ang medicine,” he said, prioritizing medicine over any roadmap.

Duterte appealed for more patience and understanding from the public while everybody waits for a vaccine to be developed by other countries. He said there are a number of vaccines under “advance development” and being used in clinical trials to address COVID-19.

He cautioned the public anew against unnecessary travel to avoid catching the disease.

Duterte expressed optimism that China has been working to develop a vaccine – referring to pharmaceuticals Sinovac, Sinopharm and Sinopharm – which could be out by yearend.

From Western countries, Duterte mentioned that Moderna, which is already in stage 4, Pfizer and BioNTech; CanSino Biologics, China Wuxi and another firm in China; Innovia [Novavax], Johnson & Johnson.

Duterte said his decision to maintain good diplomatic ties with Beijing would be beneficial  because it has pledged to give priority to the Philippines in the purchase of vaccines.

“To our credit is that we have remained friendly with China and China was able to guarantee giving us first access,” he said.

Enough funds

Meanwhile, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III assured the public that the government has enough funds for the COVID-19 vaccines, which are expected to be developed by December this year.

The government eyes P20 billion for the vaccines, payable in two to three years.

“We now have financing plan for that. The estimate of Department of Health (DOH), we will need to vaccinate for free a minimum of 20 million people, right? So I don’t know if it’s one vaccine or two shots,” he said.

“So we need – 40 million vaccines, 40 million doses. The 40 million doses times roughly $10 per dose is $400 million or roughly P20 billion,” Dominguez said.

The Philippine International Trading Corp. under the Department of Trade and Industry will be tasked with the procurement of the vaccines, the finance chief said, depending on the ones recommended by the DOH.

“Once that happens, the Department of Health now will put in their budget to pay this $400 million… And we can pay that over maybe two or three years,” he said.

“So, we will pay for it through the financing company which is LandBank and DBP,” Dominguez said, referring to the Development Bank of the Philippines.

The health department would then pay for the loans directly to the 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.

Contrary to what critics claim, Dominguez said the government has been working with a strategy.

“We have a plan and we can execute it as soon as the Department of Health chooses which vaccine or vaccines they want. Or maybe, you will choose several,” he said.

“This is the system being suggested right now and there are funds for the smooth purchase of vaccines once ready,” said Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez.

He said the volume, brand of vaccine, as well as timeline for the procurement would all be based on the requirements set by the DOH.

Lopez also said the process for procurement could still be fine-tuned if needed.

Transparency

Senators pushed for transparency as well as caution in the selection and acquisition of the COVID-19 vaccines for the government’s mass inoculation plan.

Johnson & Johnson has announced that its lead vaccine candidate for COVID-19 has elicited a “robust immune response” as demonstrated by “neutralizing antibodies” in pre-clinical studies.

“We are excited to see these pre-clinical data because they show our SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate generated a strong antibody response and provided protection with a single dose,” noted J&J vice chairman of the executive committee and chief scientific officer Paul Stoffels.

Sen. Nancy Binay said the government’s response to the pandemic must not be anchored on just waiting for a vaccine.

Citing data from the World Health Organization, Sen. Joel Villanueva said there are currently 25 candidate vaccines in clinical evaluation, of which six are in the third phase of clinical trial or human testing.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, however, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III must be removed first before any mass inoculation plan is to be implemented.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Sen. Richard Gordon in separate interviews on Wednesday warned that President Duterte must not be overly fixated on China as the country’s source of vaccines but must cast his net wider to other countries to ensure Filipinos can be inoculated as soon as possible. – Louella Desiderio, Paolo Romero, Sheila Crisostomo, Mary Grace Padin, Edith Regalado

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