PH COVID-19 vaccination goal: 70% of Pinoys in 5 years
MANILA, Philippines — The government hopes to vaccinate for the new coronavirus 60 to 70 percent of all Filipinos — enough to trigger herd immunity — within three to five years, the chief of the COVID-19 task force said on Wednesday.
Speaking at a news briefing, Undersecretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said the government could only vaccinate 20 million to 30 million people a year, and he estimated that P73 billion would be initially spent for the effort, not only to buy the required two doses for each citizen but also to cover “ancillary costs,” such as syringes and mobilization.
Galvez, chief implementer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, said the sources of the P73 billion—loans from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank—might be “unlocked” by December.
“So rest assured that the funds to be used will be prepared this coming December,” he said, adding that as the task force was considering various options in placing advance orders for vaccines, it was actually preparing to spend P70 billion to P150 billion.
He said the Department of Health (DOH) had given the task force a list of 35 million Filipinos who would be the priority recipients of the chosen vaccine.
Those people, he said, include health-care workers, police and military personnel and other servicemen, essential workers from the social welfare and education departments and other government agencies, the elderly and the poor.
The task force plans to make the distribution of vaccines geographical, Galvez said, adding that the worst-hit areas—Metro Manila, Calabarzon and Central Luzon, and the cities of Cebu, Davao and Cagayan de Oro—will get priority so that “we can immediately feel the [vaccines’] effect, and if this happens life will return to normal in these centers of the economy.”
Galvez said the mass vaccinations could start in the second quarter or middle of 2021 at the earliest, which he described as the “best-case scenario.” At the latest, which he called the “worst-case scenario” but also the “realistic scenario,” it could start at the end of 2021 or early 2022.
The government is negotiating with foreign governments and vaccine makers for vaccine supplies, Galvez said.
He said Philippine officials were talking not only with the governments of Russia, China, United States and United Kingdom but also with the governments of Australia and India for vaccine supplies.
“[For our plan to] vaccinate 60 million Filipinos, we are getting the portfolio of access to different vaccine producers [in] the countries where the vaccines will come from, and we have at least five to six where the vaccines can be sourced,” Galvez said.
No storage problem
Galvez gave assurance that storing the vaccines would not be a problem, given that the task force had six months to plan the logistics.
For vaccines that need to be stored in near-zero or freezing-point temperatures, Philippine hospitals will be able to manage, he said. For vaccines that require storage in negative 20 to negative 80 degrees Celsius, the task force will negotiate with consortiums that can provide the storage units, he said.
Whatever vaccine would be chosen by the Philippines would need approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Galvez said.
The government’s vaccine expert panel will now start evaluating AstraZeneca’s application to hold clinical trials in the Philippines of its candidate vaccine, which has been found to be on average 70 percent effective against the coronavirus.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Wednesday that the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company completed documentary requirements last week, clearing the way for the start of the regulatory process for its clinical trial. She, however, did not say when AstraZeneca will start the trial.
Five pharmaceutical companies are applying to test their candidate vaccines on Filipinos.
Apart from AstraZeneca, the companies are China’s Sinovac and Clover Biopharmaceuticals, Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute and the United States’ Johnson&Johnson.
Only Sinovac has reached the more advanced stage of the regulatory process as it awaits the ethics board’s approval of its clinical trial.
Locally tried vaccine
Earlier, Vergeire said the government preferred buying a vaccine developed by a company that had tried the drug in the country. She explained that because vaccines work differently across ethnicities, testing a vaccine on Filipinos gives the government the opportunity to see how the candidate vaccine may affect the population.
Initial results on the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University showed 90 percent efficacy among patients who received half a dose of the vaccine, followed by a full dose at least a month apart.
For those who received two full doses of the vaccine at least a month apart, efficacy was 62 percent, resulting in an average efficacy of 70 percent.
While the vaccine breached the World Health Organization’s benchmark efficacy of 50 percent, the UN body said more data on its safety and efficacy were needed since the initial results were based on only more than 11,000 participants from the United Kingdom and Brazil.
In a statement, AstraZeneca said it expected to enroll up to 60,000 participants in its large-scale Phase 3 trials. The planned trial in the Philippines and other Asian and European countries will complement the ones being conducted in the United States, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Kenya and Latin America.
Although the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will be sold at cost and is logistically compatible with the Philippines, Vergeire said it was still too early to say that this was the most practical and ideal vaccine for the country.
“We still need to see the technical details of the vaccine. Everything has to be taken into this complete context wherein we study everything — specific and very critical is to see the performance of this vaccine, based on the evaluation of our experts,” she said.