PH close to securing deal with AstraZeneca, other talks in place to secure 60 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 24) — The Philippine government is very close to securing a deal for advance purchase of 20 million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccines, the country's vaccine czar said.

National Task Force Against COVID-19 Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said the deal for advance market commitment may be finalized soon, with the memorandum of understanding inked within the month. The vaccines from AstraZeneca are seen to account for over 30 percent of the total purchase planned by the Philippine government.

"Sa AstraZeneca po puwede na po tayong magkaroon ng tinatawag na advance commitment by November. Mayroon po tayong tinatawag na negotiation at ang kanilang quota po, malaki po na 20 million, 20 million doses," Galvez said during his televised meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday.

[Translation: We may have the advance commitment with AstraZeneca by November. The negotiation states they will commit 20 million doses.]

The United Kingdom-based pharmaceutical giant recently announced its vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford, is on average 70% effective with no safety concerns. The vaccine showed up to 90% 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.

RELATED: Experts have questions about AstraZeneca's vaccine data

It also offers one of the cheapest COVID-19 vaccines in the market at around $5 or P240 for one of the required two doses. The firm said 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.

If the deal pushes through, the vaccine czar said the British government committed to send military personnel and logistics staff to help local health officials distribute the drugs by second quarter of 2021 — the "best case scenario" seen by Galvez.

“It will take six to seven months to produce ‘yung ating inorder,” Galvez said in an interview with CNN Philippines. “Kapag magkaroon tayo ng signing of contract this November and December, ang pinaka latest na i-deliver sa atin [‘yung vaccines] ay June or July.”

[Translation: It will take six to seven months to produce our order. If we accomplish the signing of contract this November and December, the delivery will be made in June or July at the latest.]

Talks with other firms, target population for COVID-19 vaccine

Aside from AstraZeneca, the government is also in talks with China-based Sinovac and US vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

"Just in case makuha natin tatlong ito, makakabuo po tayo ng 60 million next year. So ibig sabihin mayroon na po tayo na magandang mga vaccine na nakikita natin na safe, cost-effective, at saka po talaga ‘yung efficacy ay maganda po ang kanilang mga performance," Galvez told Duterte.

[Translation: If we close the deal with these three, we can secure 60 million doses next year. This means we will have safe, cost-effective, and efficacious vaccines that are performing well.]

Galvez said the country’s COVID-19 immunization program is seen to run for three to five years, with some 25 million Filipinos vaccinated per year. The government ultimately targets to immunize at least 60 to 65 percent of the population in a bid to achieve the so-called “herd immunity.”

According to the World Health Organization, herd immunity is a concept in which “a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached.”

The current Philippines population is estimated at over 108 million, which means the government is looking to vaccinate at least around 65 million people.

​Ports giant ICTSI owned by billionaire businessman Enrique Razon revealed it is in the middle of talks to buy doses of AstraZeneca, half of which will be given to the Department of Health and the rest to be administered on Razon Group employees as well as logistics frontliners, including workers at the Philippine Ports Authority and the Bureau of Customs.

"The private sector will shoulder the cost not only of the 50% deposit for the AstraZeneca vaccine but likewise the remaining 50% once the vaccine is there, which is expected now to be some time in the second quarter of 2021," ICTSI Executive Vice President Christian Gonzalez said during a Malacañang briefing.

Together with other private sector partners, ICTSI will help fund the purchase of up to 2 million doses through a tripartite agreement with the Philippine and UK governments. At $5 each, this translates to about ₱480 million.

He said the vaccine developer is open to raising the allocation to 3-5 million doses, which should protect up to 2.5 million Filipinos from getting infected. The cost will be as much as ₱1.2 billion.

The country's Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve the entry, sale, and distribution of any COVID-19 vaccine.

The Philippine government will borrow ₱73.2 billion from three external sources to fund its rollout of COVID-19 vaccines once they become available in the market.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said they will borrow around ₱40 billion from multilateral agencies such as the Asian Development Bank and World Bank. Some ₱20 billion will be loaned from domestic financing sources like the Landbank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines, and other related government-owned and -controlled corporations. The finance chief added the remaining ₱13.2 billion will come from their negotiations with other countries which produce COVID-19 vaccines.

Galvez said the first phase of inoculation will be based on location or areas with high transmission rates. Then it will be carried out to priority sectors. President Rodrigo Duterte said the poor, frontliners, and other vulnerable sectors should be the first to receive the vaccine once it becomes available in the country. He said the police and military also have to be prioritized because he needs "healthy" security forces for vaccine rollout.