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Philippines secures 2.6 million doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
Under the agreement signed yesterday, private firms would make the purchase and donate the vaccines to the government – specifically to the Department of Health – which would handle distribution.
AFP/Justin Tallis

Philippines secures 2.6 million doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Louella Desiderio (The Philippine Star) - November 28, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government and the private sector have signed an agreement with British drug maker AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals Philippines Inc. for the supply of 2.6 million doses of vaccine for COVID-19.

Under the agreement signed yesterday, private firms would make the purchase and donate the vaccines to the government – specifically to the Department of Health – which would handle distribution.

Half of the donations would be set aside for government frontliners, while the other half would cover both regular and contractual private employees included in the government’s list of priority sectors.

Speaking at the signing of the agreement, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said there are also talks for a possible procurement of another one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion said the initiative started after he was introduced by SM Investments Corp. vice chairman Tessie Sy-Coson to AstraZeneca and was asked to get the support of other private firms.

He said the vaccines are expected to arrive in the country in May or June next year.

“With all these announcements, our Filipino people can be assured that we will not be left behind. With the efforts of Sec. Galvez in bringing the vaccine to this country, we will soon see this pandemic disappear,” Concepcion said.

Galvez said vaccination as part of the response to COVID-19 is a top priority of the government.

“The commitment we are making here today is a result of the government’s efforts to provide all Filipinos access to a safe, effective and affordable vaccine,” he said.

As AstraZeneca has a zero-profit program for next year, it has agreed to sell the vaccine for a low price. It is expected to cost around P500 for two doses.

“We are working closely with regulatory authorities across the globe, and we really hope to be able to bring a solution here to end the COVID-19 pandemic,” AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals Philippines country president Lotis Ramin said.

For her part, Sy-Coson said the procurement of the vaccine is the first step toward recovery.

“Jointly, we need to work on controlling the spread of COVID-19 while at the same time, ensuring that we are able to function effectively [and] efficiently as an economy. With this vaccine, it would no longer be a trade-off between lives and livelihood,” she said.

“Our commitment extends beyond our employees and their dependents to the community at large, prioritizing those who are in need. Our task extends beyond procuring vaccines to helping optimize the end-to-end supply chain, distribution and logistics,” Ayala Corp. chairman and chief executive officer Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala said.

San Miguel Corp. president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang said the initiative is an early Christmas gift for Filipinos who have suffered enough from the pandemic.

“We are happy to be part of this effort to help contain this pandemic, protect lives and speed up economic recovery. [The] vaccine gives us hope for the future... Together, we will emerge from this crisis stronger,” he said.

“I don’t think this would have taken off the ground unless all the credibility of everyone here was involved and all towards a common goal of really assisting the Filipino people in resolving this COVID crisis,” Lance Gokongwei, chairman of the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation, said.

“Again, we’re very happy to be part of this partnership and we look forward to continuing to work in a tripartite way moving forward,” he added.

International Container Terminal Services Inc. chairman and president Enrique Razon Jr. said that while the initial purchase based on the agreement is limited, he is hopeful “along the line, we’ll get enough vaccines to vaccinate the entire population and those who require it.”

Signatories

Other signatories of the agreement are Manuel V. Pangilinan of Metro Pacific Investments Corp., Mario Deriquito of BDO Foundation, Richard Sanz of the Philippine Franchise Association, Michael Tan of Philippine National Bank, Jhayner Bufi of LBC Express Holdings, Dennis Uy of Udenna Corp., Carmelo Bautista of GT Capital Holdings, William Belo of Wilcon Depot, Paolo Borromeo of AC Health, Maribeth Marasigan of Aboitiz Foundation, Ted Belza Jr. of Penshoppe, Gerardo Borromeo of Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Marlon Roño of Magsaysay People Resources Corp., Glenn Yu of Seaoil Philippines, Ricardo Cuerva of Nova Group, Andrew Gotianun of Filinvest Corp., Felcaster Torres of Yazaki-Torres Manufacturing, Corazon Lim of Mercury Drug Corp., Jose Antonio of Century Properties Group Inc., Henry Lim Bon Liong of Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Kenneth Cheng of Bounty Fresh, Ronald Mascariñas of Bounty Agro Ventures Inc., Raul Concepcion of Concepcion Industrial Corp., Jose Ma. Miñana Jr. of Jollibee Group of Companies, Mukesh Advani of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce Philippines Inc., Edgar Sia of Doubledragon Properties or MerryMart, Jerome Ong of CDO Foodsphere, Erwin Go of GUR LAVI Group, Martin Yu of Shopee Philippines and representatives from First Philippine Holdings Corp. and Suyen Corp.

Funding

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has vowed to provide funding in the 2021 budget program for free COVID vaccine for priority sectors and poor Filipinos.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco made the commitment yesterday as Congress is set to start the bicameral conference on the P4.506-trillion General Appropriations Bill (GAB) next week.

“We will make sure there will be enough funds for the government’s COVID-19 response, especially the procurement of vaccines for an initial 20 million poor Filipinos and eventually for at least 60 million of our population,” he said in a statement.

The Department of Budget and Management has proposed only P2.5 billion in budget under the DOH for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccine next year in the National Expenditure Program submitted to Congress.

But the House, in the 2021 GAB it passed last month, increased this funding by P5.5 billion or to P8 billion. The amount, however, is only a third of the initial budget needed for COVID-19 vaccine.

Velasco said the House bicam panel would work with its Senate counterpart to appropriate more funds for the much-needed COVID-19 immunization program.

Deputy Speaker for political affairs Mikee Romero, vice chair of the House budget bicam contingent, cited the urgency to provide sufficient funding for the vaccine supply.

“This will be definitely a priority funding when we sit in the bicam. We need to ensure vaccination of our frontliners and vulnerable sectors to be able to effectively contain the virus. This is crucial before we could really jumpstart the economy and recover from the pandemic,” the 1-Pacman congressman explained.

The Department of Finance (DOF), however, estimated the vaccine to cost an average of P1,200 per person. This means the government would need at least P24 billion to purchase supply for an initial target of 20 million people.

The DOF said P73.2 billion would be needed to vaccinate 60 million Filipinos or about 55 percent of the nation’s population.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III announced earlier this week that the government intends to source the needed funds from “low cost, long-term” loans from multilateral agencies like Asian Development Bank and World Bank; domestic sources like LandBank, Development Bank of the Philippines and government corporations; and bilateral sources from countries where a vaccine is being developed which are “not yet completely negotiated.”

The Senate, in its version of the 2021 GAB passed last Thursday, also allocated P8 billion under the DOH budget for the vaccine purchase.

But the Senate version allocated another P54 billion for vaccine procurement and an additional P21 billion for storage, transportation and distribution under the unprogrammed funds in the national budget.

The House version of the GAB did not allocate funds for storage, transportation and distribution of the vaccine.

Quezon City 2nd district Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo recently filed a bill for this purpose.

House Bill No. 8000 seeks to “provide sufficient and appropriate cold storage equipment and facilities” for COVID-19 vaccines.

It also mandates the DOH to “urgently prepare for the provision” of such facilities “in accordance with specifications that are suitable for the safekeeping of the vaccines.”

“Considering that our country is a populous nation and is an archipelago, a safe and effective mass distribution of the vaccine requires ample planning and preparation,” Castelo explained.

“Establishing or finding safe storage facilities with such specification and standard in Metro Manila, the regions and in provinces, cities and towns, will be a big problem for the DOH,” Castelo added. – Edu Punay, Rainier Allan Ronda

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