Philippines expects to roll out COVID-19 vaccines first half of 2021

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 10 2020 10:55 PM

Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Cebu City, Davao City among the focus areas

Philippines expects to roll out COVID-19 vaccines first half of 2021 1
In this photo released by the Indonesian Presidential Palace, workers register boxes containing experimental coronavirus vaccines made by Chinese company Sinovac, after arriving at a facility of state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. Indonesia's government said more than a million doses of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine developed by China-based biopharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech arrived in the country late Sunday and more are expected to arrive in early January. The timetable for the vaccine to arrive in the Philippines has been set for March. Indonesian Presidential Palace via AP

MANILA - The government expects to roll out vaccines against COVID-19 in the middle of 2021, according to vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr., noting the “scarcity of supply” in the global market.

Galvez said negotiations have been ongoing for Chinese vaccine Sinovac to arrive in the country by March next year and for vaccines from British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca to be delivered around May. The government is also negotiating with Pfizer and J&J.

“If we can sign this December, normally po itong US and western vaccines, 6 months po ang grace period to produce and deliver. So kung ngayon magkakaroon tayo ng signing, earliest talaga is June, July,” he said Thursday in an online forum organized by the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines.

“At least mayroon tayong assurance na mayroon na po tayong more or less 30 million doses only from AstraZeneca, and maybe ‘pag maganda po ang negotiation natin sa limang manufacturers, we can go up to 60 million doses,” Galvez added.

He also allayed possible concerns against the safety of the vaccine from China, which will likely be the first to arrive in the country.

“Ang Sinovac po is talagang safe and effective, kasi nagamit na po nila ‘yan sa China on a limited scale,” Galvez said.

FOCUS AREAS FOR COVID-19 IMMUNIZATION PROGRAM

Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Davao City, Cebu City, and Cagayan de Oro City will be among the focus areas for the COVID vaccine rollout, according to Galvez. 

Baguio City, Bacolod City, Iloilo City, Zamboanga City, Tacloban City, and General Santos City are also among the priority areas for the vaccine.

“‘Pag cities ang inuna natin, more than 80% of our economy will recover. We will prioritize first ‘yung mga mostly affected area,” Galvez said.

He noted that areas with cold chain facilities will likely receive the vaccine from Pfizer, while vaccines from AstraZeneca and Sinovac will be for provinces without such a facility and geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas.

“‘Yung Pfizer, most likely po ‘yan sa NCR, Cebu, at saka sa Davao, sa Cagayan de Oro. ‘Yung major cities,” Galvez said.

“‘Yung AstraZeneca at saka ‘yung Sinovac, ‘yan ang pwede sa mga probinsya at GIDAs area natin,” he added.

Priority will also be given to health workers, frontliners, senior citizens, indigents, and uniformed personnel. 

Galvez advised LGUs in focus areas to identify vaccine centers, which may include medical schools, Level-3 hospitals, and schools located near hospitals. He also sought their assistance in encouraging the public to support the vaccination program.

“We will follow your lead po doon sa public information and education effort to boost confidence on the vaccine and to encourage more people to accept vaccination program,” ULAP National President Gov. Dakila Cua replied.

SHOULD LOCAL OFFICIALS BE PRIORITIZED IN VACCINATION VS. COVID?

Galvez believes local officials should also be among the first ones to get the vaccine against COVID in order to boost public confidence on the program.

“Dapat kayo ang mauna para makita na talagang safe ‘yung vaccines. Maybe in essence, dapat ‘yung mayors, governors, pangunahan natin para mawala ‘yung takot nila,” he explained.

A Social Weather Stations survey in November showed that 66% of adult Filipinos are willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Galvez said the government will launch a series of information and education programs on the COVID-19 vaccine, and President Duterte himself will campaign for the vaccination program.

“Sinasabi nga namin kami ang mauuna kung gusto nilang magkaroon ng confidence, so they have the confidence that the vaccine is safe and effective,” Galvez said.

“We might be looking also at some legal procedures that we can maximize the vaccination of our people,” he added, but also stressed that for now, getting the vaccine against COVID is voluntary.

The government targets to vaccinate close to 25 million Filipinos or 22.8% of the population next year. 

But with the assistance of the private sector, Galvez said an additional 10.5 million Filipinos, including teachers, government workers, essential workers in the transportation and food industries, and OFWs may also be covered in the vaccination program against COVID.

Funding for the vaccine will come from the national budget, loans, and private sector financing. Galvez said the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank will also serve as procurement agents for the Philippines, each with a reserved P300 million to P500 million dollars for the country’s immunization program against COVID. The government expects the immunizaton program to last 3 to 5 years.

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