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Duterte approves P2.5B to vaccinate 22M Filipinos

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House Committee on Peoples Participation chair by Rep. Florida “Rida” Robes (right) and Dr. Aleli Annie Grace Sudiacal of the Department of Health’s Bureau of International Health Cooperation in the virtual meeting. (CARR images)

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has already approved the use of P2.5 billion for the vaccination against COVID-19 of some 22 million Filipinos should a vaccine become available.

Dr. Aleli Annie Grace Sudiacal of the Department of Health’s Bureau of International Health Cooperation revealed the funding Thursday during the meeting of the House Committee on Peoples Participation chaired by Rep. Florida “Rida” Robes of San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan.

Sudiacal said the P2.5 billion is allotted under the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act for the purchase of Covid-19 vaccine through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility.

The Committee on Peoples Participation has been conducting meetings in a bid to coordinate and facilitate efforts in the development of vaccine for Covid-19.

Sudiacal explained that the COVAX facility is a global sharing mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccine once they are licensed and approved. It is expected to provide vaccination for 3 to 20 percent of the population or 3.2 million to 22 million Filipinos.

She stressed that COVAX pools together the world’s philanthropists, international non-governmental organizations and other groups to be able to talk to manufacturers to produce vaccines based on the need of a country, regardless of their economic standing.

“This way we will be assured that manufacturers will produce the amount needed to vaccinate this eligible population,” she said.

She added that the Philippines is eligible under the COVAX system because it is a low middle income country which signified its intention to be part of the system. However, the country needs to pay US$1.6 to US$2 per dose to be able to be take part in it.

“As you all know we have RA 9184 or the Procurement Act which prohibits advance payment for something that is still not there. That is why we had to seek the intervention of the President and it’s very good news that the President has approved the use of the P2.5 billion allotted for the purchase of vaccines for the Philippines to have access to the COVAX facility,” she told the committee.

With the President’s approval, the country may get access for around 20 percent of the population once a vaccine or several vaccines become available. She said funding will from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

Sudiacal said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Covid-19 has already identified 12 priority vulnerable groups that will be given vaccine based on the guidelines issued by the World Health Organization Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE).

They are the frontline health workers from the public and private sectors, indigent senior citizens, remaining senior citizens, indigent population and uniformed personnel.

Other priorities are teachers and school workers from public and private institutions, government workers, essential workers in agriculture, food industry, transportation and tourism, socio-demographic groups at significantly higher risk like people deprived of liberty, People with Disability and Filipinos living in high density areas, Overseas Filipino Workers, other remaining workforce and students.

Aside from the Covax facility to ensure that vaccines will be made available to Filipinos, Sudiacal said the government is also venturing into other options like talking to some 3 vaccine manufacturers for government to government procurement, domestic production and/or foreign donation.

The funding sources from the vaccine procurement may be from multilateral banks such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, local bank-facilitated loan from the Development Bank of the Philippines and the Land Bank of the Philippines as well as direct contracting.

Department of Science and Technology Assistant Secretary Leah Buendia said her department is currently studying the application of three vaccines for phase 3 of clinical trials, namely Sinovac from China, Sputnik V from Russia and Johnson and Johnson from the United States.

Buendia clarified that the Philippines has yet to evaluate the vaccine developed by Pfizer because the company has not submitted its application to the department.

Robes for her part expressed elation over the latest vaccine development saying that it gives hope to the Filipino people who have long been hoping and praying for a vaccine for Covid-19.

“We would like to commend the tireless efforts of the President and the IATF to help our countrymen and find a vaccine. We are almost there I think. With these new developments, we will be able to go back to normal very soon,” Robes said.

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