The Philippine government is prepared for Covid-19 vaccine rollout by 15 February, vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. told the House Committee on Health on Monday.
If the manufacturers will not be able to deliver the vaccines on schedule, however, the distribution can be moved to March, he added.
During the House inquiry into the national Covid-19 vaccination roadmap, Galvez said the National Task Force (NTF) plans to procure 20 million doses of US-developed Moderna; 30 million doses of Covovax from India and 25 million doses of Sinovac from China.
Reacting to questions on their prices, Galvez reiterated that the controversial Sinovac will only cost less than P700, while Sinopharm would likely cost P3,600.
AstraZeneca, the most preferred vaccine brand by most local government units (LGU), would amount to $5 or P240, the official added.
Pfizer vaccines, he said, can be administered as early as next month.
“We have a clinical trial for the first week of February for Johnson & Johnson vaccine. If COVAX facility would be approved, Pfizer will be (used in the country) first. Then, Sinovac will come next,” Galvez disclosed.
Moderna vaccines will arrive in May while other Covid-19 vaccine candidates are expected to be delivered in early July and August.
Cost-sharing with LGU?
When questioned whether the NTF would split the cost of vaccinations with LGU, Galvez said it would rather augment vaccination coverage than do cost-sharing.
“The arrangement is we are responsible for the supplies and how it would be administered. If (LGU) would buy 20 percent for their population and we intend to inoculate 70 percent, we will include that. That would make it (LGU) 90 percent,” he explained.
“The President really admired the LGU which volunteered to use their own resources. LGU wants immediate intervention to revive the economy,” he added.
Highly Urbanized Cities (HUC) will be prioritized, he said, in a bid to recover 80 to 90 percent of the economy.
He assured that there will be equitable sharing among LGU but areas critical to the country’s economic development will be provided vaccines first.
For LGU classified as classes two to four that cannot afford to purchase their own vaccines, Galvez said, “The (national) government will take care of them.”
Health workers, indigent senior citizens, persons deprived of liberty, and indigenous people are among the priority groups of the government’s inoculation program.
Aklan 2nd District Rep. Teodorico Haresco Jr. suggested that NTF must also prioritize tourism areas, citing that tourism regions can contribute up to $1 billion dollars in the country’s gross domestic product.
Galvez assured the congressman that tourism areas will also be prioritized by the recovery cluster of NTF which is primarily led by the National Economic and Development Authority.
The national inoculation program is a three-year plan, said Galvez, and will be executed in three tranches.
He explained that the first tranche would be the first priority group, which includes health care workers. The second tranche is the second priority (group) then so on.
For vaccination program priority groups living in areas far from Metro Manila, the Department of Health (DoH) eyes to administer AstraZeneca vaccines as it is less sensitive to temperature and can be stored at room temperature compared to other vaccines that need to be stored in ultra-low freezers.
DoH Secretary Francisco Duque III is confident that the government has enough storage for vaccines until July this year.
But as more vaccines are expected to come by the third quarter, the DoH will need third party logistic providers for additional cold storages.
Galvez encouraged the LGU to partner with private cold chain providers.
Although many LGU have already chosen their own vaccine brand, Galvez urged them to procure the vaccine which was already granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) as “any delay can delay the recovery of the economy.”
“If they’re willing to wait for (their preferred vaccines), we give them the decision, but there are consequences,” he said.
Who has the EUA as of now?
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted its first EUA to Pfizer last week.
FDA Director General Rolando Enrique Domingo said Pfizer applied for EUA on 23 December 2020 while AstraZeneca applied on 6 January 2021.
It was followed by Sputnik V on 7 January then Sinovac on 13 January.
Domingo, however, stressed that pharmaceutical companies must still continue their clinical trials even if one had already received EUA.
“Our decision is still based on their phase three results. So, we are still asking for the necessary requirements, and only then that we can evaluate,” he said.
Galvez also clarified that he leads the overall Covid-19 vaccination roadmap but the selection of the vaccines will be upon the recommendation of the vaccine expert panel of the Department of Science and Technology.
FDA is responsible for its regulation, while DoH will assume the implementation.
Duque said the list of the people considered as priority groups for inoculation is being finalized as of the moment.
DoH is in coordination with non-government organizations to help with vaccine education and promotion.
Duque believed media practitioners can “substantially help” the agency enhance vaccine confidence of the public.
He added that influencers like social media vloggers and celebrities will also be tapped.
He also clarified that teachers will not be asked to administer vaccines but will be part of vaccination teams as health educators.
The DoH will set up vaccination sites, but it is also considering vaccinating high risk sectors like senior citizens through a “house-to-house” campaign.
Duque, however, stressed that this will be “more of an exception rather than the rule.”
Recipients of the vaccines will have to accomplish a consent form first before they are inoculated.
A DoH vaccination campaign team will compose of six members to do the following functions: Screening and assessment (e.g. physician, nurse), health education (e.g. teachers, social workers), vaccination (e.g. doctor, nurse) and documenter (e.g. medical students).
Each team will be tasked to vaccinate 100 people per day.
Should there be any adverse effects observed in a vaccine recipient, the seriousness of the side effects will be identified and reported to the surveillance units.
“We will digitalize our system for (the master list) so as to report any adverse events in immunization. We are working with the DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology) in the pre-registration of each vaccine to easily transmit data,” Duque explained.
For serious cases, a thorough investigation will be done by DoH.
However, given that there are many areas in the country with no access to the Internet, Duque said they are also preparing a “manual way” for its database management.
Domingo, meanwhile, reiterated that adverse effects like cough and colds are common.