PH ready to buy P20-B anti-COVID vaccines

Published July 31, 2020, 11:57 AM

by Genalyn Kabiling & Chino Leyco

Buoyed by the progress in the global race for the coronavirus vaccine, the Duterte government will purchase ₱20 billion worth of vaccines once the supplies become available. 

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte talks to the people after holding a meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on July 30, 2020.

The proposed fund allocation comes after President Duterte presented the government’s plan to prioritize the country’s poorest of the poor for the coronavirus immunization program. 

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said Friday that the Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) can fully fund the estimated ₱20-billion budget for vaccines without support of the national government due to Land Bank and DBP’s strong balance sheets. 

Under plan, Land Bank and DBP, two government financial institutions (GFIs), will provide a loan to the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC), the state-owned company mandated by President Duterte to purchase COVID-19 vaccines from overseas. 

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said the ₱20 billion worth of vaccines is just an initial batch. 

“The GFIs will fund PITC’s purchase with a term loan for the purchase of the vaccines identified by the DOH [Department of Health]. 

PITC will sell the vaccines to the DOH. The DOH will pay PITC over time from their future allocations from the national budget,” Dominguez said. 

“We can pay that over maybe two or three years. So they will pay the financing companies which are Land Bank and DBP. These can finance the purchase of the vaccines which will be about ₱20 billion,” he added. 

He said Land Bank and DBP, being the third and ninth largest lenders in the country in terms of assets, respectively, will not get any additional capitalization from the national government to fulfil the President’s directive. 

“The current balance sheets of both GFIs can support the estimated loan requirement of ₱20 billion. In his taped public address, the President welcomed the progress in vaccine development, particularly expressing appreciation for China’s offer to prioritize the Philippines’ access to the vaccine and medicines. Once the vaccine is available, Duterte said the government will purchase these and tap the military to help in the distribution. 

Read more: AFP ready to assist in COVID vaccine distribution

“I promise you by the grace of God, I hope by December we will be back to normal. Don’t expect the new normal because I said when we started, let us just wait for the vaccine,” Duterte said. 

“Just wait by December if you can be patient. Because if you keep going out and get infection, you’ll end up dead,” he said. 

Under his free vaccine distribution plan, Duterte said the poor beneficiaries of the government’s subsidy program will be the first to benefit. 

The middle-income people as well as soldiers, policemen, and uniformed personnel will also be entitled to the free coronavirus vaccines. 

Excluded from the government’s distribution list are the country’s rich “who can buy their own vaccine” as well as the “drug pushers and drug addicts,” according to the President. 

“Those who have nothing will be the first beneficiaries and of course those in the hospitals, the sick, and dying. We will prioritize the people on the list of those getting assistance from the government,” the President said. 

“’Yung mga mayaman, huwag na ninyong – huwag na ninyo akong isipin kasi hindi ako nag-iisip sa inyo. Sorry na lang. Kayo kung makaafford (To the rich, don’t think of me because I don’t think about you. Sorry. You can already afford),” he added. 

Duterte said he would ask Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and the military to implement the distribution of the coronavirus vaccines to the rightful beneficiaries. 

“Libre ito. Hindi ko ito ipagbili (This is for free. I won’t sell it),” he said. In the meeting with some Cabinet members, the President asked Dominguez to discuss how the government will finance the vaccine acquisition program. Dominguez said the government could provide vaccines for free initially for 20 million people as estimated by the Department of Health. 

The DOF chief said three pharmaceutical firms from China, a company from the United Kingdom, and another firm from the United States are expected to complete the third stage of the trials of their potential coronavirus vaccines by October. 

“Before December most likely ma-a-approve na po ‘yun ng mga FDA nila, ‘yung Food and Drug Administration. So when that happens ho, ang Department of Health ang mamili kung anong tamang bakuna ang bibilhin (Before December, mostly like their Food and Drug Administrations (FDAs) will approve them. When that happens, the Department of Health will choose the right vaccine to be purchased),” Dominguez said. 

“Ang estimate ho ng Department of Health, we will need to vaccinate for free a minimum of 20 million people ‘di ba? So I don’t know if it’s one vaccine or two shots, two shots. So we need – so 40 million vaccines – doses, 40 million doses. Ang 40 million doses times roughly 10 dollars per dose ‘di ba is 400 million dollars or roughly 20 billion pesos,” he said. 

Dominguez said if the vaccine costs $10 per dose, the pharmaceutical firms may sell the medicine around ₱1,200 to include the service and transportation of the product. 

“That’s totally available, the financing is available for this program,” he added.