Recto: Economy depends on success of vaccine rollout

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    SENATE President pro tempore Ralph Recto yesterday said he sees the country recovering by the second quarter of 2022 if the government’s vaccination program goes well.

    “Nakasalalay ang ekonomiya natin sa rollout ng bakuna. Kung hindi maganda ang rollout, baka hindi kakayanin ng economy natin, baka marami mawalan ng trabaho (Our economic recovery depends on the government’s vaccination rollout. If the rollout is bad, our economy may further suffer and many more will lose their jobs),” Recto said in an interview with radio dzBB.

    Last year, he said, the country suffered some 1.39 trillion in economic losses, and another 1.39 trillion in opportunity loss.

    By the second quarter of next year, the economy will fully recover if more Filipinos have been vaccinated.

    “Kaya nakasalalay lahat yan sa bakuna, sa curative at health protocols… Kapag marami ang nabakuhanahn, makakabawi tayo by the 2nd half of 2022 (It really depends on the vaccination rollout, in the curative and health protocols… If we inoculate more Filipinos, then our economy can recover by the 2nd half of 2022),” he added.

    At the House, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel Pimentel warned of more jobs losses in the months ahead, particularly in the banking and tourism industries, as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic further weighs down the economy.

    He said the suspension of loan repayments mandated by Congress last year made it difficult for banks to fully ascertain their non-performing loans.

    “The bigger banks in particular might start reducing their headcount this year, once they get a better estimation of their bad loans. There’s no question the post-pandemic banking landscape will involve fewer brick-and-mortar branches, with more Filipinos performing transactions online,” Pimentel said.

    Pimentel said the same strain is also creating setbacks in the tourism industry which employs thousands.

    “The bigger hotels and resorts with more financial resources deferred labor retrenchments throughout 2020. They might start cutting those jobs now,” he said.

    In line with his concern, Pimentel called for the creation of one-stop shops where laid-off Filipinos can easily claim separation insurance, apply for skills retooling, and seek reemployment facilitation.

    “Government must provide physical locations plus a customized website where displaced workers can get all the help that they need from multiple agencies under one roof in just one stop,” Pimentel said.

    He said the Social Security System, the Public Employment Service Office, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and local government units must work together in putting up the one-stop shops to cushion the effect of job losses.

    SENATE HEARINGS

    The Senate has convened itself into a Committee of the Whole and conducted three hearings on the government’s vaccination program. The hearing last Friday is the third and last.

    Recto said the Senate hearings helped the government improve its vaccination program.
    Several senators have insisted that government disclose the purchase price of one particular vaccine, that from the Chinese private firm Sinovac, but government officials invoked confidentiality agreements. Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez met with some senators last week and explained to them the purchase conditions.

    Recto said the vaccination program is on the right track. He said senators have also given recommendations to the government, including providing healthcare workers safe and effective vaccines which he said can build the public’s confidence in vaccines.

    To determine which vaccines are safest and most effective, Recto said the Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration should get the data about vaccines used to inoculate at least 60 million worldwide and let the experts decide on which ones to use.

    “There is light at the end of the tunnel pero mahaba pa ang tunnel kaya ingat pa tayo lahat. Para huwag matakot ang taumbayan ay kunin na natin ang safest, most effective na bakuna hindi na kailangan tipirin pa yan. (There is light at the end of the tunnel but the tunnel may still be long way to go so we must be cautious. Let us get the safest, most effective vaccines so our countrymen will not be scared. Let us not be thrifty in choosing the right vaccines),” he said.

    The country is set to receive an initial 50,000 doses of vaccine from Sinovac next month, while a second batch of 950,000 doses is due in March. One to 2 million doses are expected to be delivered to the country thereafter until the purchased 25 million doses are received.

    The government is also looking at the delivery of the first batch of vaccines from Pfizer, under the COVAX Facility, next month. Government initially said the country would get 30 million to 40 million doses for free to cover about 20 percent of the population but it might be reduced to 15 percent to 16 percent of the population.

    The country is spending P82.5 billion for the procurement of 148 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine from seven pharmaceutical firms.

    The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization (EUA) to Pfizer-BioNTech. Evaluation is ongoing for the EUA applications of AstraZeneca, Gamaleya, Sinovac, and Bharat Biotech.

    The Department of Health, for the nth time, asked the public to continue observing health protocols despite the expected arrival of the vaccines.

    Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said vaccines have not been proven to successfully prevent transmission of the virus.

    “We want to remind our people that the COVID-19 vaccine is not a magic pill,” she said.

    “We still don’t have sufficient evidence to have that assurance that they won’t get infected with COVID-19 if they have the vaccine. What we are seeing so far is evidence of less chances of having a full-blown disease, of needing hospitalization, and of dying,” said Vergeire.

    “It is still unknown how long will the immunity the vaccines can provide will last,” she added.

    COVOVAX

    Unilab Inc. and Faberco Life Sciences Inc. (Faberco) have signed an agreement to make Covovax™ vaccine developed by Novavax and manufactured by Serum Institute of India (SII) available to workers and employees of the private sector, subject to approval by the National Task Force Against COVID-19, the Department of Health and the EUA evaluation by the Philippine Vaccine Expert Panel and the FDA.

    Novavax is a company based in Maryland, USA and one of the companies supported by the US government under Operation Warp Speed. SII is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.

    Under the agreement, Faberco, which is the distributor of Covovax™ vaccines in the Philippines, appointed Unilab as its authorized partner for the private sector.

    “Unilab and Faberco share the same vision and advocacy in terms of providing access to as many Filipinos at the soonest possible time. We are prepared to help the Philippine government in protecting the people by enabling more access to Covid-19 vaccines through the private sector,” said Kishore Hemlani, founder of Faberco.

    Jose Maria A. Ochave, Unilab senior vice president for Social Partnerships, said the vaccines will be made available to the private sector, especially hospitals and essential industries, “with the condition that they be made available at no cost to their employees, and, depending on the company’s financial capability, also to their employees’ families and their selected communities.”

    Faberco is the partner of SII in the Philippines. SII signed a term sheet with the Philippine government to secure 30 million doses of vaccines. — With Peter Tabingo, Jocelyn Montemayor, and Gerard Naval