As Philippines eyes vaccine procurement, gov't to finalize who gets it first

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 20 2020 10:26 AM | Updated as of Nov 20 2020 11:23 AM

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines is prioritizing certain sectors to receive the initial batch of free COVID-19 vaccines as it targets to expand the vaccine coverage to about half of the country's population, the Department of Health said Friday.

The DOH now hopes to vaccinate some 50 to 60 percent of the population from the original plan of 20 percent. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the government plans to prioritize certain sectors before reaching the whole expanded coverage.

"We are still working on that. The President has given the priorities as discussed with the Secretary of Health and our vaccine czar. We are going to finalize our prioritization over the weekend," she told ANC's Headstart.

"We will be prioritizing specific populations first and then we can be able to roll it out and hopefully we can achieve this 60 percent of the population," she said.

As herd immunity may only be possible with about 50 to 60 percent of the population vaccinated, Vergeire said the public must continue observing minimum health standards to stem the transmission of the virus.

The department will also ensure transparency in its COVID-19 vaccination program as lawmakers seek additional funding for it, she said.

Vergeire said the increase in budget allocation to procure the vaccines will depend on which vaccine is chosen. 

Sen. Ralph Recto is the latest legislator to propose an increased budget for COVID-19 vaccination, which is currently pegged at P8 billion. He suggested P20 billion to be allocated for the delivery of the vaccine, and another P20 billion to be placed as unprogrammed appropriations.

"We are in a pandemic and everybody’s lives are at stake. Government is trying to ensure that whatever money we put in this basket for the vaccine and whatever response we have for COVID-19 will be used diligently, will be used appropriately and that corruption will not be there," she said when asked about the unprogrammed budget.

Vergeire also noted that the Philippines will partner with multilateral organizations, such as the Asian Development Bank, so that the country would not be solely funding the needed technologies.

"We would like to be as transparent as possible so that people will know that we are going to use this money and it’s going to go for the appropriate technology for everybody’s benefit," she said.

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US-based drug manufacturer Pfizer said the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with its German partner BioNTech SE showed 95% efficacy in the final results from the late-stage trial. The experimental drug from Moderna Inc. also showed roughly the same effectivity rate.

However, storage and delivery are now a concern as the Pfizer-produced drug has to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius for long-term storage, while Moderna's version must stay at -20 degrees Celsius if kept for 60 days and 2-8 degrees for 30 days.

Vergeire said vaccines are "still under development" and the DOH is still awaiting results of the trials, specifically information on "how long the antibodies will last when you are vaccinated with this type of vaccine."

For the vaccines to be used in the Philippines, it must first be assessed by a panel of experts, then an ethics board, and then the Food and Drug Administration.