Putin hosts talks between leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia

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Jeddah – Yasmine El Tohamy – MANILA: The Philippines may start rolling out its coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination program in February, Carlito Galvez, the country’s vaccine chief, said at a Senate hearing on Monday.

The bulk of the vaccine supply for the Philippines, which will come from the US pharmaceutical company Novavax, is expected to arrive later this year.

“It is expected that we can start our rollout this first quarter in February,” Galvez told the Senate Committee of the Whole. 

The first rollout, he said, will “most likely” be by either Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, or Sinovac through COVAX, a global facility that aims for equitable access to vaccines for developing countries. It is led by the World Health Organization, the Gavi vaccine alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

The Philippines hopes to receive 40 million doses from the COVAX facility.

The government has allocated approximately 82.5 billion pesos ($1.78 billion) for the purchase of vaccines this year. Of the total amount, 70 billion pesos will be sourced from foreign loans.

Galvez had previously said the country was negotiating with several drug manufacturers, as the government seeks to inoculate up to two-thirds of its population of over 100 million people within the year.

On Sunday, Galvez, representing the Philippine government, signed a deal with the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Faberco Life Sciences, Inc. for the procurement of 30 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, Covavax, which will be available from the third quarter this year.

SII, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has partnered with US-based Novavax for the development and commercialization of Covovax.

While the deal was for 30 million doses, Galvez told lawmakers that Novavax is expected to supply the Philippines with up to 40 million doses.

At a press briefing in Malacanang on Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque also said that the Philippines has secured 25 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine. An initial batch of 50,000 doses will arrive next month, he added.

The government also hopes to secure up to 40 million doses from Pfizer, while AstraZeneca and Russia’s Gamaleya are reportedly also ready to sell at least 25 million doses each.

Moderna, he said, is allocating between 15 to 20 million doses.

“All negotiations are very successful. We are now in the final stages of supply agreement,” Galvez said at the Senate hearing.

And while he pointed out that 80 percent of the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines has already been procured by wealthy countries, the Philippines is trying its best to negotiate with different vaccine companies “to get a fair share of the vaccines for the remaining 18 percent.”

The Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration has yet to give its approval to any of the vaccines, which is a requirement before a rollout can take place. Three drug makers have already applied for emergency authorization: Pfizer, Gamaleya, and AstraZeneca.

Several local government units have also secured vaccines for their constituents.

The Philippines has a total of 487,690 COVID-19 infections, with 1,906 new cases recorded on Monday. Of the total, 458,198, or 94 percent, have recovered. Eight new fatalities were also reported, raising the death toll 9,405.

Health experts have expressed concern that there may be a surge in the number of cases following the holidays and last Saturday’s Feast of the Black Nazarene. Reports indicate that an estimated 400,000 faithful, disregarding the pandemic, flocked to the Quiapo church in Manila to express their devotion.

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