The private sector will sign today, November 27, a deal with the government to buy up to 3 million doses of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccine developed by the British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.
Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Jose Maria “Joey” Concepcion 3rd will sign the agreement on behalf of the private sector.
Concepcion said the P600-million deal will help more than 1 million Filipinos.
“We’re targeting 2.5 million to 3 million doses which will help 1.5 million people in the upper end of the range since the vaccine requires two doses. We want to ensure that the Philippines will not be left behind when the vaccines come out in 2021,” Concepcion said.
The doses will be donated to the Department of Health (DoH), which will handle its distribution.
Concepcion said half of the donations will be set aside for government frontliners, and the other half for regular and contractual employees in private companies.
Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the country’s vaccine czar, is leading negotiations for vaccine procurement.
Concepcion said in addition to the 3 million doses, Go Negosyo will purchase 70,000 doses for micro, small and medium enterprises, which will cover 35,000 people.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to cost around P500 for two doses, cheaper than regular testing methods, Concepcion said.
Aside from Go Negosyo, the other private donors are International Container Terminal Services Inc., BDO Unibank, First Philippine Holdings Corp., LT Group, Inc., San Miguel Corp., Metro Pacific Investments Corp., Universal Leaf Philippines Inc., LBC Express Holdings Inc., Udenna Corp., GT Capital Holdings Inc., Wilcon Depot Inc., Ayala Healthcare Holdings Inc., Aboitiz Equity Ventures, Golden ABC Inc, Mercury Drug Corp., Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Yazaki-Torres Manufacturing Inc., Bounty Fresh Food Inc. and RFM, Concepcion Industries.
Completing the list of donors are: Jollibee Foods Corp., Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce Philippines Inc., Philippine Transmarine Carriers Inc., Magsaysay Maritime Corp., Nova Group, Alliance Global Inc., JG Summit Holdings Inc., Philippine Franchise Association, Double Dragon/MerryMart, Filinvest Development Corp., Lotis Shoppe, Century Properties Group, Bench, CDO, Mercedes-Benz Philippines, Rustans, Megaworld and SeaOil Philippines.
AstraZeneca recently announced that its vaccine, developed with the University of Oxford, was 70-percent effective in pivotal trials.
The vaccine showed up to 90 percent efficacy in one dosing regimen — when it was given to 2,741 people as a half dose, followed by a full dose at least a month later.
The vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions without the need for extreme cold storage, which is not yet available in the Philippines.
Once the deal is done, the British government will send military personnel and logistics staff to help local health officials distribute the drugs by the second quarter of 2021, Galvez said.
“It will take six to seven months to produce ‘yung ating inorder,” Galvez said in an interview with CNN Philippines.
If the contract is signed in November or December, the delivery of the vaccine can start in June or July at the latest, he said.
The race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine is heating up as companies start to release the results of their trials.
In the Philippines, a vaccine has to be approved first by the DoH and the Food and Drug Administration before it could be marketed.
Aside from AstraZeneca, the government is in talks with China-based Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and US vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.
Galvez earlier said the country’s Covid-19 immunization program was expected to run for three to five years, with some 20 to 30 million Filipinos vaccinated per year.
The government eventually hopes to immunize 60 to 65 percent of the population to achieve the so-called “herd immunity.”
The World Health Organization defines herd immunity as a concept in which “a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached.”
Last week, President Rodrigo Duterte approved advancing payments to private developers to speed up the vaccine procurement process.
On Thursday, the country logged 1,392 new Covid-19 cases for a total of 424,297.
Recoveries were at 387,266, and the death toll at 8,242.
Three hospitals in the country have also begun clinical trials for the antiflu drug Avigan (favipiravir) to determine if it will help in the therapy of mild or moderate cases of Covid-19.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the trials started November 20 with three patients from the Philippine General Hospital, three from Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital, and two from the Quirino Memorial Medical Center.
Vergeire said changes in the clinical trial protocol had been approved by the Joint Ethics Board, paving the way for more volunteers and a less-stringent criteria for inclusion in the trial.
With the new protocol, the DoH hopes the required number of volunteers for the trial, which is 144, will be reached.
Avigan, developed by the Japanese conglomerate Fujifilm, has drawn interest from many countries for its potential to prevent the virus from replicating.
The Philippine National Police is preparing to help in the immunization effort once a vaccine is approved for distribution, PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas said.
Sinas also said he was glad the police and military will be prioritized in the Covid-19 immunization program.
He said President Duterte understood the risk faced by frontliners, particularly the police and the military.
With reports from CATHERINE S. VALENTE, RED MENDOZA and DARWIN PESCO