PH eyes credit line for vaccine purchase

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    President Duterte consults with his economic team. ACE MORANDANTE/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

    PRESIDENT Duterte on Monday night said the Philippines would ask for credits lines from Russia and China, if he has to, just to be able to buy vaccines for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

    Duterte said the Philippines, while already short of money, is willing to pay for the vaccines because it is aware that funds have been used to develop the drugs and because countries are starting to experience “economic hemorrhage” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque yesterday said the government is also looking at borrowing funds from the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines.

    Roque said the government is eyeing some P20 billion to buy 40 million doses of vaccine to be given to 20 million Filipinos.

    Duterte thanked Russia and China anew for offering to prioritize the Philippines in the distribution of the vaccines they are developing.

    “I cannot overemphasize my debt of gratitude. But remember that this is not for free, for, after all, they did not develop the vaccine without great expense and also the human effort involved,” the President said in mixed Filipino and English during a public address after meeting with members of the Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (AITF).

    “We will buy it but if it is quite expensive, then I will ask my friend (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin and (Chinese) President Xi Jinping to give us a credit, a debt, a credit line.

    But we will pay, not in one payment but by installments,” he added.

    Duterte last week said Russia is offering the vaccines, which he believes will be given for free, and the two governments would just need to negotiate on how many vaccines are needed.

    Duterte even said he was willing to be the first one to be injected with the vaccine from Russia to prove his trust in Russia.

    The Philippines and Russia are set to clinical trials for Sputnik-V vaccine, which will be funded by the Russian government, from October 2020 to March 2021. If the trials are successful, the vaccine can be registered with the Food and Drug Authority by April 2021 to enable its distribution and use in the Philippines starting May next year.

    As to China, Duterte has said it has promised the Philippines access to a vaccine it is developing and the country would borrow funds, if it needs to, just to acquire some 40 million of vaccines which would be given in two doses for free to the poor sector.

    Several other countries are developing vaccines, including the US and the UK.

    The World Health Organization reminded member-states eyeing to buy vaccines that speed is not the only thing important in developing cure.

    “WHO welcomes all advances in COVID-19 vaccine research and development. However, we also continue to emphasize that accelerating vaccines research should be done following the steps to ensure that every step of the development will contribute to ensuring the safety and effectiveness of vaccines,” said Dr. Socorro Escalante, WHO Western Pacific Regional Office COVID-19 incident manager, in a virtual press conference.

    “That means all candidate vaccines that are going into production should
    adhere to the standards of safety and efficacy,” she added.

    Russia is the first country to approve a vaccine but it has yet to conduct large-scale trials that would produce data to show whether the vaccine works. This prompted alarm among global health experts who said that with no full trial data, the vaccine is hard to trust.

    Escalante said the WHO is continuously in touch with Russian authorities with regards to the vaccine.

    The Department of Health has given the assurance that Sputnik V will need to pass the country’s own regulatory processes before it will be accredited. — With Gerard Naval