MANILA, Philippines — Vaccines for COVID-19 would be available in the country next month but only one of the two brands manufactured in China, as other brands like those produced in the United States and the United Kingdom would be ready only in July, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said yesterday.
“From February to June, there is no other choice because only one vaccine will be available, the one that will come from China,” Roque said, referring to Sinovac.
“If you do not want Sinovac, well, you won’t be forced,” he added. “If you are among the priorities, if you are a health worker, a senior citizen and you don’t want that, you would lose your priority slot... You will have to fall in line with the rest of the Filipino population.”
Roque assured the public that vaccines that secure emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be safe and effective, regardless of the brand.
“If approved by FDA, they are safe and proven effective. So the brand is not important,” he added.
Also at Malacañang, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles stressed that persons who have the money to buy their preferred vaccine brand cannot do so for now as the vaccines won’t be available for commercial use this year.
He explained that EUAs granted by drug regulators worldwide do not cover the commercial use of COVID-19 vaccines.
“No, this has been explained by our FDA head, director general (Eric) Domingo... They (vaccine manufacturers) apply for emergency use application and the EUA is actually not for commercial purposes so the set-up is that it is only through the national government,” Nograles said when asked if the COVIOD-19 shots would be available in the market this year.
“Because of the unique characteristics of the vaccine... it’s an EUA application not just in the Philippines but the entire world. The FDA of other countries grant EUA and it is only through the national government because there is a limited number of vaccines available,” he added.
Roque previously said Filipinos should not be choosy about the brand of vaccine they might opt to receive for free from the government. He drew flak from critics who insist that taxpayers deserve to select the type of vaccine to be injected on them.
The Philippines has secured 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese drug maker Sinovac despite doubts about their efficacy. The first 50,000 doses are expected to arrive in the Philippines next month and are expected to be administered first to health workers. There have been claims that the vaccine manufactured by Sinovac is only 50 percent effective against COVID-19 but officials say the rate is compliant with the minimum requirement set by the World Health Organization.
Nograles said members of the priority sector who refuse to be inoculated would be asked to sign a waiver stating that they understand the implications of their decision.
“If it’s time for you to be vaccinated but for some reason, you don’t want to be vaccinated, you waive your slot...we put you at the end of the line so the queueing system won’t be disorderly,” he said.
“The DOF reported that we have P75 billion allocated for the procurement of vaccines for 57 million recipients. When you add the 13 million Filipinos that will be covered by various LGUs and private sector vaccination efforts, a total of 70 million Filipinos should be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Nograles said.
“The planned roll out of our vaccine is good news that impacts not only the health of our people but the economic well-being of our country as well,” he said.
On the issue of storage and freezer requirements, Nograles said the government is placing these concerns on the list of obligations of pharmaceutical firms or the manufacturing companies.
“We are confident to be able to cover that many Filipinos and that’s enough for herd immunity and that I think is the essence of the report of the Department of Finance,” he said.
As local governments rush to order vaccines, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said having a decentralized procurement of vaccines for COVID-19 can be chaotic.
“It is not good if we will be fighting among ourselves for the vaccines,” he noted in a radio interview.
Duque made the statement after some senators questioned what they perceived as the government’s monopolizing the procurement of vaccines.
Under EUA rules, the private sector and the LGUs are not allowed to purchase the vaccines yet.
Duque cautioned about the likelihood that the “highest bidder” would end up having the vaccines.
He underscored this may result in the priority sectors, such as the poor, and health care workers, among others, being disregarded.
“If that will be free-for-all, those who are affluent and the bigger companies will be the ones to get the vaccines first. It is difficult if there is no orchestrator,” he added.
The government has already set aside P75 billion to fund the vaccination of almost 60 million Filipinos against COVID-19, the Department of Finance (DOF) said yesterday.
“We have a total budget of P82.5 billion, but we have already in place P75 billion,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said at a meeting with the Management Association of the Philippines.
The finance chief said P12.5 billion of the amount was already in the 2021 budget, while the remaining P62.5 billion would be secured as loans from multilateral institutions, including the Asian Development Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and World Bank.
According to estimates, Dominguez said the budget available so far would be enough to inoculate 57 million individuals.
However, Dominguez said there are around 70 million Filipinos that need to be vaccinated against COVID-19, leaving at least 13 million individuals not covered by the present funding.
The finance chief came up with these estimates as those 18 years old and below may not be included in the vaccination program.
“We have 110 million Filipinos, right? Of the 110, around 40 million are below the ages of 18, and it is not recommended that teenagers and below get the vaccine. So you knock off 40 million out of 110 million, that leaves you with 70 million Filipinos potentially to vaccinate,” he said.
As for the remaining 13 million, Dominguez said these individuals would be covered by LGUs or the private sector. Some, he said, may be those who refuse to get vaccinated.
“So basically we are going to be covered and I think we will be able to easily, with the resources we have raised, vaccinate 60 million Filipinos,” he said.
Finance assistant secretary Paola Alvarez said the national government had programs to ensure that all LGUs, including low-income ones, get access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
“According to National Policy Against COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the national government will provide necessary resources to help LGUs purchase equitable vaccines for their constituents,” Alvarez said.
Land Bank of the Philippines president and chief executive officer Cecilia Borromeo earlier told The STAR that the bank was open to establishing credit lines for LGUs to provide them resources for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Meanwhile, officials of the Philippine National Police have started discussions on the rollout of their COVID-19 vaccination program, which includes procuring vaccines with high efficacy rates for PNP members.
Members of the PNP command group tasked by the police health service to create a technical working group to undertake a study on which vaccines are safest and most effective.
A police official who was privy to the meeting said those in the command group want only the best vaccines for their troops as they do not want to repeat the “blunder” committed by the Presidential Security Group which inoculated its members with an unauthorized vaccine. – Sheila Crisostomo, EmmanuelTupas