Gov’t eyes vaccine purchase in first quarter of 2021

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    NEWLY-APPOINTED vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. yesterday said government is looking at procuring vaccines against the coronavirus diseased (COVID-19) in the first quarter of 2021.

    Galvez, also chief of the National Task Force against COVID-19, presented to media an initial seven-point “Philippine National Vaccine Road Map’’ which detailed government’s immunization plan. The plan has yet to be presented to President Duterte for approval.

    Galvez was named vaccine czar by President Duterte on Monday night.

    Under the road map, the first phase of the plan will be from November 2020 to March 2021, which includes scientific evaluation and acquisition of guarantees for potential vaccines, which should be completed between November and December this year.

    From January to March 2021, to be implemented are the procurement process; production, shipment and storage; distribution and deployment; implementation and nationwide vaccination; and assessment, evaluation and monitoring.

    Galvez said the road map is guided by ongoing clinical trials and vaccine developments abroad but he expressed confidence the plan is doable. He said several companies abroad are in different stages of vaccine development.

    Galvez said a report by a special task group on COVID-19 vaccine development showed that trials of candidate vaccines can be done in the country as early as next month and if the trials are successful abroad, “the earliest (we can buy vaccine) is March and May. That is their prediction.”

    He said among the vaccines being eyed are those being developed by United Kingdom-based AstraZeneca.

    Galvez said the Philippines is holding diplomatic discussions with the United Kingdom on how the country can have access to their vaccines, once available. He said there are also talks with China, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan.

    Galvez said apart from the vaccine, the government is also talking with big pharmaceutical giants like Zuellig Pharma and Unilab Inc. for the possible use of their cold chain storage facilities for the storage of the vaccines.

    MILITARY GUY AS VACCINE CZAR

    Galvez acknowledged the gravity of his new responsibility but expressed belief his experience as chief of the Armed Forces would help him in the acquisition, coordination and distribution of vaccines.

    He said he will just be the “gatekeeper” and “synchronizer” of all government agencies involved in the COVID-19 pandemic response while the Department of Health and the Department of Science and Technology will still oversee the medical aspect.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the position of vaccine czar requires managerial skills and knowledge in logistical movement.

    He said the safety and medical issue would be handled by the Food and Drug Administration.

    The government has allotted funds for the purchase of 40 million doses of vaccines for 20 million people. The poor sector will be given priority.

    The Department of Health backed Galvez as vaccine czar.

    “We look forward to working closely with him in the rollout of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, and we will jointly ensure that it is made accessible to all Filipinos,” said a DOH statement.

    Aside from Galvez, government already has four other anti-COVID-19 czars, namely Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong as tracing czar, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar as isolation czar, Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega as treatment czar, and BCDA president and CEO Vince Dizon as testing czar. — with Gerard Naval