By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter
THE PHILIPPINES has funds to buy coronavirus vaccines but it needs more so the entire population of more than 100 million could be inoculated, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said on Wednesday night.
“I have the money already for the vaccine,” he told an online news briefing after meeting with some Cabinet members. He did not elaborate.
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 will be among the first ones to be vaccinated, along with poor Filipinos.
The Department of Health (DoH) last week said an inter-agency task force led by the Department of Science and Technology was preparing for COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) vaccine phase clinical trials in November.
Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson and Sinovac Biotech Ltd. have applied for phase 3 clinical trials in the country.
Meanwhile, a panel of vaccine experts has approved the application for clinical trials of China’s Sinovac vaccine against the coronavirus, according to the local Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Sinovac must also pass the ethics board before it can proceed with the trials, FDA Director General Rolando Enrique D. Domingo told an online news briefing on Thursday.
The panel endorsed the Sinovac vaccine on Monday, while the ethics board will meet this week to discuss the application, he said. Sinovac might start its trial in November, depending on how soon it can submit its application to the regulatory body, he added.
The FDA will have 14 days for technical evaluation and it will take another week for it to assess and decide on the matter, Mr. Domingo said.
The expert panel reviews phases 1 and 2 of the clinical trials, while the ethics board looks at the “human ethics” of the trials, he added. The FDA handles the regulatory part and reviews the trial protocols, he said.
The Department of Health (DoH) reported 2,261 coronavirus infections on Thursday, bringing the total to 348,698.
The death toll climbed by 50 to 6,497, while recoveries increased by 385 to 294,161, it said in a bulletin.
Metro Manila reported the highest number of new cases at 566, followed by Cavite with 174, Pangasinan with 145, Northern Samar with 104 and Quezon with 98.
There were 48,040 active cases, 84.6% of which were mild, 10.7% did not show symptoms, 1.6% were severe and 3.2% were critical.
Of the new reported deaths, 14 came from Metro Manila, 12 were from Western Visayas, four each from Central Luzon and Central Visayas, and three each from Northern Mindanao and the Davao region.
Ilocos, Bicol, the Calabarzon Caraga regions reported two deaths each, while Zamboanga Peninsula and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) reported one death each, the agency said. More than four million people have been tested for coronavirus, it said.
Also on Thursday, presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque told an onlines news briefing the budget for the vaccines would come from loans and the 2021 budget. “We have long fixed our funding scheme,” he told an online news briefing in Filipino.
Russia’s plan to set up a local manufacturing plan for the vaccine would ensure adequate supply, he said, noting that rich countries have invested in vaccine manufacturers to get supplies first.
Russia and China do not accept such arrangements, he pointed out. “So we expect that if they make the vaccines here, we won’t run out of supply,” Mr. Roque said in Filipino.
Pending enactment of next year’s P4.5-trillion national budget, the budget for the vaccines would be loaned from the Landbank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines through the Philippine International Trading Corp., Mr. Roque said.
He said a person needs two doses of the vaccine and each dose costs $10, adding that 40 million doses are needed for 20 million people. About P2.5 billion had been allocated for vaccine procurement in the 2021 budget.
The coronavirus has sickened 38.8 million and killed 1.1 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).
More than 29 million people have recovered from the virus, it said.
It added that active cases stood at 8.5 million, 1% of which or 70,477 were either serious or critical.
The United States had the most infections at 8.2 million, followed by India with 7.3 million and Brazil with 5.1 million. The US also had the most deaths at 221,850, Brazil had 151,779 and India had 111,311.