COVID-19 immunization program to prioritize epicenters, vaccination hubs in police and military camps eyed

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 9) — The country's vaccine czar on Monday identified the regions and urbanized cities that will be prioritized in the immunization program against coronavirus as nations scramble to receive the first doses of the highly-awaited COVID-19 vaccine.

National Task Force Against COVID-19 Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. said priority areas are those that have become epicenter of the contagious virus, namely Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Central Luzon, Cebu City, Davao City, and Cagayan de Oro. He added there will be major hubs of cold storage in these areas.

Aside from priority areas, the government also laid down the sectors to receive the first few doses of the vaccine. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said they are the medical frontliners, workers from government agencies, poor families, and vulnerable population.

Galvez added that once these groups have been inoculated, the vaccination program will then shift to protect thousands of police personnel and soldiers — upon the wish of President Rodrigo Duterte. He added that camps of the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines will be used as vaccination hubs where the public can receive their doses.

"Pwede rin po natin gamitin ang kampo na maging vaccine centers kasi po kasama po sa aming plano," he said in a media briefing.

[Translation: We can use the camps as vaccine centers, that's part of our plan.]

Duterte wants to vaccinate the country's entire population free of charge, but officials remain realistic — at least for the first batch of vaccines. Galvez said that the worst case scenario is that the bulk of vaccines may arrive in the country by end of 2021 or early 2022 due to high demand, especially from rich countries. But all hope is not lost. The official said the Philippines might be able to procure 10 to 15 million doses by May next year at the earliest if the country will have successful negotiations with other countries and companies.

The vaccine czar said that the country is looking to buy at least 3 to 5 million doses from AstraZeneca, one of the frontrunners of the COVID-19 vaccine development. Galvez said AstraZenica is offering the cheapest vaccine at only $5 per dose.

Galvez said the country’s vaccine experts panel is already evaluating 17 candidate vaccines, of which, 10 have existing bilateral agreements with the Philippines and five are participating in the WHO’s COVAX facility. He said the Philippines' involvement in the COVAX will help the country to secure doses enough for 20% of the country's population, adding more bilateral arrangements need to be finalized to fully rollout the immunization program nationwide.

In a separate briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the government is also looking into different options in acquiring supplies of COVID-19 vaccines for the country. These include bilateral deals with governments of other countries such as China, Russia, and the United Kingdom. The Philippine government may also enter a tripartite agreement with the private sector along with a company supported by another government and consider multilateral modalities such as pooled purchases with ASEAN or arranged by multilateral lenders such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.