Philippines eyes 148 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in January, but talks hanging on global supply

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Philippines eyes 148 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in January, but talks hanging on global supply
This file photo taken on April 5, 2019 shows a nurse preparing the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at the Rockland County Health Department in Haverstraw, Rockland County, New York.
AFP / Johannes Eisele, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Duterte administration on Wednesday said it looks to secure 148 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, but an official admitted that this would still depend on the global supply where 80% had already been procured by other countries.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.'s new pronouncement came as government seeks to allay criticism that surfaced over the past weeks that it is lagging behind in the race among countries in securing possible jabs.

In a Laging Handa briefing, the senior Duterte official said the administration is in the "advanced stages" of talks with drugmakers such as US-led Pfizer, Novavax, Johnson and Johnson's, British-Swedish AstraZeneca, as well as China's Sinovac and Russia's Gamaleya.

"We hope to close the deal with these companies this month," he said. "'Pag nagkaroon tayo ng very effective negotiations, mayroon tayong mahigit 148 million doses."

(If our negotiations turn out effective, we would have the 148 million doses.)

Galvez added that apart from the said negotiations, the country would also receive doses for 20% of the population or 22 million through the COVAX facility, a global initiative for providing fair and equitable access to the jabs.

Government closed the previous year with no purchase deals signed yet despite President Rodrigo Duterte pinning his hopes mainly on vaccines for the country to return to normalcy.

It was also only in November that the president allowed for making advanced payments to companies after rejecting the move, which he said was the West's move to make profit.

So far, the Philippines has 2.6 million doses of AstraZeneca that had come from a P600 donation from the private sector.

But a global tracker showed that by mid-December, over 12.1 billion doses are already secured despite no official vaccine yet out in the market. 

Indonesia, for one, is now sure of more than 357 million doses. The country holds the highest number of coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia, followed by the Philippines.

Local governments in Metro Manila have also taken it to themselves to secure their own doses, such as Makati earmarking P1 billion for the effort and Quezon City signing a deal with AztraZeneca for 750,000 doses.

New target number? 

In the same briefing, Galvez revealed that in 2021 alone, government would be able to vaccinate 50 to 70 million Filipinos.

Such ran counter to what he said back in November, where the range would only be reached in three to five years

"We will do this in a three to five-year period because we can only vaccinate around 20 to 30 million a year," he had said, while also admitting that the realistic picture of the vaccination program could be by end of the new year or by early 2022.

The administration has vowed to prioritize health workers, those most vulnerable to the virus as well as state forces in getting inoculated this year. 

But this promise has since met criticism and doubts, after it was found that security details of the president had been vaccinated with unregulated and smuggled jabs as early as September.

While agencies have said that they will continue to probe the incident that has been roundly condemned, Duterte has practically cleared his men of any wrongdoing and effectively eroding the possibilty of someone being held responsible.

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