By Gillian M. Cortez, Reporter
The government is planning to allocate P20 billion to buy vaccines against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), once it is available.
In a televised address aired on Friday morning, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said he received an assurance from China that it will give priority to the Philippines once it successfully develops a vaccine.
He noted China is currently ahead in the race to develop the vaccine, with three Chinese pharmaceutical companies in the more advanced stages of development compared to those in other countries.
Mr. Duterte said he projects a vaccine will be available by December.
The President said he will prioritize poor Filipinos, who are currently receiving subsidy and assistance from the government during the lockdown, for the free vaccination program.
“Ang una talaga ang mga tao sa listahan na tumanggap ng assistance sa gobyerno. Pangalawa, yung middle income. Libre ito, hindi ko ito pinagbili (The first priority will be the people who receive assistance from the government. Second to that, are those in the middle income. This is free, this is not for sale),” he said.
Mr. Duterte added the military and police, along with government employees, will also be prioritized for the vaccination program.
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said the government is looking to at least 40 million doses to benefit 20 million Filipinos for the free vaccination program.
“We will need to vaccinate for free a minimum of 20 million people. I don’t know if it’s one vaccine or two shots so we need 40 million doses times, roughly $10 per dose is $400 million or roughly P20 billion,” Mr. Dominguez said.
He said the Philippine International Trading Corp. will be in charge of purchasing the vaccines, which will be distributed by the Health department.
Once a vaccine is available, Mr. Dominguez said the economy can fully reopen and go back to “normal,” not the “new normal.”
The economy was expected to have slumped to its lowest point in the second quarter, as lockdown ran from mid-March to May. The statistics authority will release second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) data on Aug. 6.
“The economy is beginning to recover. We hit the lowest part in April and May. As we can see it is already picking up now,” Mr. Dominguez said, adding there are no liquidity problems, inflation remains benign and the peso is the “strongest currency in Asia.”
Mr. Duterte, who is known for his aggressive campaign against illegal drugs, said drug addicts and pushers will not get free vaccines.
“Sasabihin ko, sorry wala kang bakuna. Mamatay ka na (I will say to them, sorry you don’t have a vaccine. You should die),” the President said.
Despite tensions with the communist rebels, Mr. Duterte said they will be given vaccines for free since he can see the kind of poverty they experience. The President has assigned for the military to distribute the free vaccines.
“If you stop fighting for the period,…pwede kayo sumali, pumila dun (you can join and line up for it),” he said.
The Philippines has seen a steady rise in COVID-19 infections in the last two weeks. On Thursday, the Health Department reported 3,954 COVID-19 cases – the biggest single-day rise in confirmed infections – bringing the total to 89,374. The death toll is now at 1,983, while recoveries stood at 65,064.