Palace: Unnamed vaccine czar appointed 2 months ago
The administration tapped four officials to oversee specific strategies in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Palace: Unnamed vaccine czar appointed 2 months ago
Rainier Allan Ronda, Sheila Crisostomo (The Philippine Star) - October 27, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte has named a vaccine czar, but the person who was given the title does not want his identity revealed until the Chief Executive talks about his designation, Malacañang said yesterday.

The administration tapped four officials to oversee specific strategies in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. These are Public Works Secretary Mark Villar (isolation czar), Bases Conversion and Development Authority chief Vince Dizon (testing czar), Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong (contact tracing czar) and Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega (treatment czar).

Earlier this week, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto cited the need for a “vaccine czar” who will ensure that the Philippines will have enough supply of COVID-19 vaccines once these become available.

The Department of Health welcomed the proposal, with DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire saying having “czars” for the various aspects of COVID-19 response speeds up the processing of strategies against the virus.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque revealed that Duterte had in fact designated a vaccine czar two months ago.

“The concept of a vaccine czar who will focus on the importation and logistics has been discussed. In fact, two months ago, the President designated one, but the person does not want it announced until the President reiterates that he has been designated,” Roque said at a press briefing.

Last week, Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana said the Philippines has to prepare for the production and distribution of vaccines from China, which he hopes will be available by yearend.

He said the Philippines, which is on China’s priority list of countries that will get vaccines, has been advised by Chinese firms to prepare a cold chain storage.

Roque said Duterte wants to be immunized before April next year, the estimated timeframe by which the coronavirus vaccine will have been available.

“This really came from the mouth of the President: ‘I can’t wait for April. I want to be immunized next week.’ Well, it’s generally an expression of frustration, like the rest of the country, he can’t wait for April because that was when (Health) Secretary (Francisco) Duque (III) said that the vaccine would be made available,” the Palace spokesman said.

Roque said Duque had advised Duterte to wait for the approval of the Food and Drug Administration, to which the President agreed.

Lulu Bravo of the Philippine Foundation for Vaccination said Filipinos should continue wearing face masks, washing hands frequently and observing physical distancing even if a vaccine is available.

“We are not yet sure if that vaccine is really safe or really efficacious to our countrymen,” Bravo said, noting that the Philippines has not used vaccines from China. Most of the vaccines used in the country came from the United States, Europe and India, she added.

“With regard to China, I want to see whether the studies are good before we can say that it (vaccine) is safe to give to our President. We should rely on the scientific data that will be produced. I’m not saying Chinese vaccines are bad. What I am saying is until such time that we can and the experts will be able to really scrutinize it, they have to check whether it’s really effective,” Bravo said in Filipino.

She stressed the need for the public to be informed about the importance of immunization, noting that the Philippines recorded the biggest vaccine hesitancy in Asia partly due to the Dengvaxia controversy.

Bravo said doctors have been proposing the creation of a National Immunization Technical Advisory Group that will provide inputs on policies and measures related to vaccination programs.

Meanwhile, Science Secretary Fortunato dela Peña said the World Health Organization (WHO) has pushed back the start of the Solidarity Trials of their candidate COVID-19 vaccines to December, after it has chosen to pilot the trials in the Americas.

“The remaining sites including the Philippines are scheduled to start in December 2020,” Dela Peña announced at a virtual forum of foreign correspondents yesterday afternoon.

He said the Department of Science and Technology, with respect to preparations for the Solidarity Trials and its independent talks with foreign institutions as well as pharmaceutical and biotech companies developing their own candidate COVID-19 vaccines, was all set for the Phase 3 clinical trials.

“In the WHO briefing held last Oct. 22, it was noted that the list of vaccines for the solidarity trials will be released on Oct 26. Which is today, so we are still expecting that it will be released today,” Dela Peña said.

“They have submitted initial documents to the sub-TWG (technical working group) for vaccine development and this is expected to be supplemented once the final field protocol and the list of vaccines will be released by WHO,” Dela Peña said.

He said the DOST has already formed a project team led by the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital just for the WHO Solidarity Vaccine Trials.

He also revealed that another group, IG Biotech and its Australian partner, expressed interest in conducting clinical trials for their candidate COVID-19 vaccine in the Philippines.

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