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Philippine COVID19 Vaccination Program: What we know so far

COVID-19 Vaccination Priority Framework and Targets

Source: National Task Force Against COVID-19

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr outlined the ambitious targets the government had for its vaccine program: secure at least 148 million vaccine doses and inoculate 50 million to 70 million Filipinos within 2021 – just enough to reach the recommended 60% of the population scientists estimated was needed to reach herd immunity against COVID-19.

These targets were approved despite the limited supply of vaccines with a resolution to be strategic in distribution. The Philippine government is in talks to secure vaccines from 7 companies, including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, Sinovac, Gamaleya, and Johnson & Johnson. Members of the Presidential Security Group got COVID-19 vaccine shots as early as September 2020, but investigations are underway into how these unauthorized vaccines presumably were “smuggled” into the country and used on President Rodrigo Duterte’s detail. The decision to purchase the China-made vaccine Sinovac was also questioned by the public. Not only that it has a very low efficacy of 50%, but its price is also high compared to other vaccines. Duterte defended the national government’s decision expressing his confidence in the recommendations given by Galvez.

(as of February 18, 2021, taken from different sources)

Johnson & Johnson is expected to start Phase 3 clinical trials of its vaccine in the Philippines in the coming weeks, after the FDA approved its application to hold late-stage trials in the country.

Who gets the vaccine first?

(image from Rappler)

COVID-19 referral hospitals in Metro Manila – the epicenter of the pandemic in the country – will be prioritized for this supply. Galvez listed the following hospitals in particular:

· Philippine General Hospital

· Lung Center of the Philippines

· East Avenue Medical Center

· Dr. Jose N Rodriguez Memorial Hospital

Priority Regions as of January 2021

How will vaccines get to you?

For local government units (LGUs) that secured vaccine deals on their own, supplies ordered will be delivered to their communities, with additional stock from the national government. Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr said the goal here is to help areas reach herd immunity, with cities and provinces recording high infection rates to be prioritized.

Vaccination will follow the government’s priority list of groups, with frontline health care workers, senior citizens, indigent populations, and uniformed personnel among the first groups in line. It's worth noting here that not all groups will be vaccinated at the same time since vaccines are expected to be delivered in tranches.

The DOH said local government units have been tasked to identify who among their constituents fall into these priority groups for vaccination. Some localities have launched online registration sites where people can sign up to get vaccinated.

For more details, you may read Part 2 of Rappler’s EXPLAINER: How COVID-19 vaccines will get from warehouses to you.

What policies are in place for the COVID-19 vaccination program?

Duterte certified two vaccine indemnification bills as urgent.

Senate Bill 2057 seeks to expedite the purchase and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and establish a P500-million indemnification fund, while House Bill 8648 seeks to authorize local government units (LGUs) to give advance payments for COVID-19 vaccines.

Senator Pimentel, however, pointed to a provision in the Senate Bill No. 2057 wherein individuals who have “completed Covid-19 immunization may be granted certain benefits or exemptions” calling it a vaccination passport program.

These include international travel as may be allowed in foreign jurisdictions, non-essential domestic travel, as well as access to business establishments allowed to operate based on guidelines Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases guidelines.

“By using these regulations, the people might get the feeling that there is no more choice except to get vaccinated, otherwise, we cannot probably move around, there’s no more non-essential domestic travel,” Pimentel said.

Increasing Philippine debt

Additional loans were also made to secure finance of vaccine procurement. DOF Usec. Joven reported that the Philippines is currently in the process of securing a total of $425M loan from ADB purely for vaccinations alone, including logistics and manufacturing.

The latest World Bank documents showed the Washington-based lender’s upcoming additional financing for the Philippines’ COVID-19 Emergency Response Project to be implemented by the Department of Health was raised to $400 million as of Jan. 16 from $300 million previously.

As such, the total commitment across 14 loans in the World Bank’s near-term lending pipeline for the Philippines rose to $2.9 billion.

Besides the World Bank loan for vaccine procurement and distribution, the Manila-based Asian Development Bank has also committed $325 million under its Asia-Pacific Vaccine Access Facility while the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is reviewing financing requests from member-countries, including the Philippines.

Despite a flurry of available financing, Citigroup managing director and head of Asia-Pacific economic and market analysis Johanna Chua told a webinar organized by debt watcher Fitch Ratings on Tuesday that the Philippines was a laggard in the region in purchasing COVID-19 vaccines.


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