Duterte wants government-to-government deal for COVID-19 vaccines

Philippine president’s top science and technology official says vaccine would be available at the earliest in mid-2021.

Philippines Virus Outbreak Duterte In this May 4, 2020, photo provided by Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division
Duterte also ordered on Tuesday the extension of quarantine in Metro Manila and six other areas across the the country until the end of November [File: Presidential Palace via AP]

President Rodrigo Duterte said that he would favour a government-to-government deal for the purchase of coronavirus vaccines in the Philippines to prevent the risk of corruption.

Duterte made his latest pronouncement even as his Science and Technology Department secretary admitted that in the “most optimistic” scenario, a vaccine would not be available until mid-2021.

“Let me tell everybody that we will not beg, we will pay,” Duterte said in a prerecorded address that aired on Tuesday morning.

“To the Chinese government, you need not look for partners, we can make it government to government,” added Duterte, who repeatedly said that he received assurance from Beijing that the Philippines would be a priority when a vaccine is available.

The Philippines has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Southeast Asia behind Indonesia.

The country’s coronavirus cases reached 372,000, with more than 7,000 reported deaths as of Monday.

Manila lockdown extended

Duterte made his latest pronouncement as he also ordered the extension of quarantine in Metro Manila and six other areas across the country until the end of November.

Earlier, Duterte declared that he wanted to inoculate every one of the country’s 113 million people but priority would be given to the poor, the police and military personnel.

“All should have the vaccine without exception,” Duterte said in a previous televised address.

He repeated that he preferred COVID-19 vaccine supplies to come from either China or Russia. Both have submitted applications to conduct clinical trials for their inoculations in the Philippines.

“For me, either China or Russia, I am ok,” Duterte said.

Apart from China’s Sinovac Biotech and Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute, the Philippines is also evaluating Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit’s application to conduct Phase 3 trials of its COVID-19 vaccine.

It has had talks with other potential vaccine suppliers, including US drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna.

The country has been gradually reopening the economy to allow more businesses to resume operations, even as the number of cases grows in several provinces outside the Metro Manila area.

Meanwhile, in an online forum on Monday, Department of Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Pena said that it would still take time to conduct clinical trials and to manufacture the vaccine from other countries.

“We still are looking at the end of trials in the second quarter of 2021. And between the end of trials, to the approval by FDA for application, for use, and the actual vaccination, mass vaccination, it will still take some time. Our original estimate of mid-2021 is still the most optimistic,” dela Pena said.

“Mid-2021 is optimistic. I suspect we’ll have to live with our current normal for the full of 2021.”

The earlier clinical trials in the Philippines are scheduled in December, with at least 12 hospitals selected for the programme.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters