Duque: Vaccinating 60 to 70 million people 'will take time'
MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines may start inoculating its citizens with the vaccine against COVID-19 around March or April next year, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Monday.
"We’ve done some scenario analysis under the leadership of Sec. (Carlito Jr) Galvez and I think the best case scenario would be about the end of the first quarter of 2021 or about the start of second quarter of next year," he told ANC's Headstart when asked when the inoculation may begin.
"A lot of factors will have to be taken into consideration to be able to more definitively set schedules for actual distribution, deployment, and inoculation of our people within our priority list," he said.
Duque said government is looking to build a portfolio of different vaccines, depending on the availability and evaluation of a panel of experts.
He said in the list are those from Sinovac, Gamaleya, AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, and Johnson & Johnson. Vaccines from these companies "require a much less sophisticated and a bit higher cold storage temperature."
Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine demands -70 degrees celsius storage, which the Philippines does not have at the moment, said Duque. However, he said he heard from Galvez that the company "might be willing to provide" the storage facility to ensure the vaccine's effectivity.
The distribution then would depend on the requirement of each vaccine that will be rolled out, said Duque. Since the country has been doing vaccination drives for decades, it will "piggyback" on existing systems, he said.
"We need to enhance the capacity because there has never been in the history (a time when we had to vaccinate) a huge number of people, at 60 to 70 million people. It will take time to do it," he said.
The government will also need to train more people to do the inoculation in a larger scale, he said.
He added, some P13.2 billion has been earmarked for peripheral costs of vaccination, such as the purchase of syringes and waste disposal.
Duque also committed to being one of the first to receive the vaccine to encourage the public to also get themselves inoculated. He said he will also invite other Cabinet officials to do the same.
The government is hoping to inoculate about 50 to 60 percent of the country's population to achieve herd immunity from COVID-19.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed earlier this month an executive order allowing the Food and Drug Administration to issue emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccines and drugs.
This means that coronavirus vaccines approved by the countries where they were developed can be used locally after 21 days, down from the current required 6-month verification.