Local execs asked to pool vaccine funds

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    THE Department of Health yesterday told local government units (LGUs) they could not purchase vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that do not have certificates of product registration (CPRs) issued by the Food and Drug Administration.

    Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire issued the statement as some local government units (LGUs) have set aside funds to buy vaccines for their constituents.

    Vaccines for the disease are still being developed and manufactured by foreign companies.

    The national government is is negotiating with other countries for the supply of vaccines which are expected to come in the first or second quarter of the year.

    Vergeire, in a press briefing, said, “It only becomes available in the market when a particular product has a CPR. But they cannot acquire that yet because their clinical trials aren’t finished yet.”

    She said even the issuance emergency use authorization (EUA) of the FDA would not be enough. “An EUA of the FDA can only allow the purchase of the national government.”

    Instead of making independent purchases, Vergeire the health official urged LGUs to just coordinate with the DOH and other concerned national government agencies in the purchase of vaccines.

    “We are encouraging LGUs to work with the national government so we can pool the funds and the national government can procure and have an effective distribution system,” she said.

    “We can assure the local governments, that based on the prioritization list, everyone will be included,” she added.

    The cities of Makati and Manila, among others, have expressed their intent to purchase and implement their own COVID-19 immunization program.

    Makati Mayor Abby Binay said the city government has allocated P1 billion for the vaccine purchase and is coordinating with vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. and the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to finalize details of the purchase and mass vaccination.

    “This is our number one priority for 2021. I want each and every Makatizen to receive both doses of the coronavirus vaccine for free to protect them and their families against the virus,” she said.

    Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto said the city government has allotted an initial P300 million for its COVID-19 vaccination program.

    During the Laging Handa press briefing, Sotto said Pasig City is coordinating with the Department of Health, the IATF and the Metro Manila Council for the vaccination program.

    The Quezon City government said it is finalizing talks with a reputable multinational pharmaceutical company for its acquisition of an initial 750,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

    “We are ready to purchase. After implementing our test, isolate, and treat strategy, vaccination is our game plan now. This free vaccination program will definitely complete our efforts against this deadly virus,” Mayor Joy Belmonte said.

    The city government will prioritize its 10,000 health workers, 300,000 senior citizens, 20,000 adult persons with disabilities, and other priority sectors as recommended by the World Health Organization.

    As announced last December, the city has allocated an initial P1 billion in its 2021 budget to purchase vaccines and supplies needed for the inoculation.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said all transactions are made through a “government-to-government” scheme and there are no independent orders.

    The government is hoping that an initial batch of vaccine would arrive in the first quarter of 2021 while the bulk would be available by the second to third quarter of the year.

    Among the vaccines eyed in the first quarter would come from China and Russia like Sinovac and Sputnik while the bulk in the second quarter would come from AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

    The Philippine Red Cross will receive funds from both foreign and local donors which will be used to help inoculate at least 1 million Filipinos against COVID-19, said PRC chair Sen. Richard Gordon.

    In an interview with CNN Philippines, Gordon said he has convinced the American Red Cross to pour funds to the PRC and is now in the process of having talks with a local electronics company for additional funds to purchase the vaccines.

    He said the American Red Cross has committed to give $500,000 (roughly P25-M) which will be equaled by the PRC from its earnings in its various programs.

    He said plans to help the government inoculate at least 1 million Filipinos are now underway, adding it will not be a new thing for PRC since they have administered polio and measles vaccines to 1 million Filipinos last year.

    “We are going to do that in Red Cross kung papayagan kami. But again ayoko munang pumasok diyan dahil ang laki pa ng utang ng PhilHealth. Hangga’t hindi nababayaran yan we cannot go and commit ourselves again to another, baka another wild goose chase trying to get it out (We are going to do that in the Red Cross if we will be allowed. But again, I don’t want yet to enter into that because PhilHealth still owes us. We cannot go and commit ourselves again as this might be another wild goose chase until PhilHealth pays us),” Gordon said.

    Ayala Corporation president and chief operating officer Fernando Zobel de Ayala, in a virtual briefing, said his company has committed to secure 450,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, worth about P120 million, about half of which will be donated to the government.

    The rest will go to the private sector.

    He said the vaccine costs $5.50, including logistics.

    He said the Ayala Group has spent P12.7 billion worth of COVID -19 response and aid as of the end of 2020 but it would continue to assist the government including in the distribution of the vaccines.

    In November 2020, the Ayala group with close to 30 other big companies signed an agreement with the Philippine government and AstraZeneca for 2.6 million doses of vaccines to be delivered between May and June 2021.

    An agreement for a second batch of vaccine, amounting to 3.7 million to 3.8 million doses, is being finalized by the private firms with the Philippine government and AstraZeneca. At least 240 private companies are included in the second batch.

    Under both agreements the private sector will pay for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has a 90 percent efficacy rate, but donate half of it to government.#

    Many Chinese nationals including engineers, businessmen and workers involved in infrastructure projects in the Philippines are returning to China to take part in their country’s mass vaccination program against COVID-19, Ambassador to China Jose Sta. Romana said in a virtual briefing. – With Raymond Africa, Victor Reyes, Noel Talacay, and Jocelyn Montemayor