Duterte says vaccines may be funded by loan

By Gillian M. Cortez and Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporters

PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte on Tuesday said the government might borrow $300 million to finance its vaccination program for the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 400,000 and killed almost 8,000 people in the Philippines.

In a televised address, Mr. Duterte said Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III would find the money so the state could buy the vaccines.

“That is a lot already,” he said of the amount. He said vaccine supply could be a challenge since countries with promising clinical trials of the vaccines would prioritize domestic distribution.

“You can expect that within the few months until next year, all of those vaccines produced will be used for the Americans,” Mr. Duterte said. It would be the same for countries in Europe, he added.

Many countries are racing to develop a vaccine that will beat the virus that has infected almost 52 million and killed 1.3 million people worldwide.

Mr. Duterte last month said the government had funds to buy coronavirus vaccines, but it needed more so the entire population of more than 100 million could be inoculated.

He said he would look for more funds so all Filipinos could be vaccinated. The President said he was okay with vaccines developed either by Russia or China.

Mr. Duterte said he had spoken with outgoing Russian Ambassador Igor A. Khovaev and was told that Russia intends to set up a pharmaceutical company in the Philippines that will make the vaccines available here.

He said soldiers and the police would be among the first ones to be vaccinated, along with poor Filipinos.

The Philippines will try to order 50 million coronavirus vaccine units for 25 million Filipinos next year, Carlito Galvez, Jr., the country’s vaccine czar, earlier said.

The government was in talks with embassies in other countries for a government-to-government arrangement for vaccine supplies, he said. He said preparations and planning for the national vaccination program could take six months.

The “best case scenario” is having vaccines available by May to July through COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility and bilateral agreements, Mr. Galvez said.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 1,672 coronavirus infections on Wednesday, bringing the total to 401,416.

The death toll rose by 49 to 7,710, while recoveries increased by 311 to 362,217, it said in a bulletin.

There were 31,489 active cases, 83.3% of which were mild, 9.4% did not show symptoms, 4.6% were critical and 2.5% were severe.

Cavite reported the highest number of new cases at 100, followed by Davao City at 99, Quezon City at 81, Batangas at 78 and Baguio City at 70.

Five duplicates were removed from the tally, while 10 cases previously tagged as recovered were reclassified as deaths, the agency said. Eight laboratories failed to submit their data on Nov. 10, it added.

Meanwhile, the government would review the application of vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech Ltd., for clinical trials in the country after it halted trials in Brazil, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told an online news briefing on Wednesday.

Brazil’s health authorities halted clinical trials of the Chinese-developed COVID-19 vaccine due to a “serious adverse event.” Reuters reported on Nov. 10. The halt was not related to the vaccine trial itself, the news agency said, citing the Health secretary for the state of Sao Paulo.

The vaccines had shown no serious effect, according to Reuters, citing Dimas Covas, head of the institute conducting the trial.

Ms. Vergeire said Sinovac has the responsibility to inform the Philippine government of the developments because they have applied for clinical trials here.

Once official documents or reports on the adverse effects arrive, the Science and Technology department’s vaccine expert panel and the local Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would review these, and only then will they decide if the trials will push through.

The expert panel has approved Sinovac’s application for clinical trials here. Its ethics board had yet to approve the application, which must get the nod before it can seek approval from the FDA.

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