Philippines may start COVID-19 vaccination by May 2021 — Galvez

MANILA, Nov 5 (Mabuhay) — The Philippines may start inoculating COVID-19 vaccines to the public by May next year if everything will go according to plan, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr, who was recently tapped to lead the importation and distribution program, said Thursday.

In the timetable proposed by Galvez, the Philippines will place an advance procurement within the first quarter of next year. He said the inoculation will largely depend on the financing, development and approval of the vaccines.

“If everything will go well, ang mangyayari po is earliest is May,” he said when asked about the vaccination timeline.

Should there be roadblocks on supply and demand, the earliest that the program may begin is by the end of 2021, he said.

The Philippine government is targeting to purchase an initial 24 million COVID-19 vaccines for the country, Galvez said.

Galvez stressed that President Rodrigo Duterte wants to make the COVID-19 vaccine accessible to the poor and vulnerable individuals.

“Ang gusto po ng mahal na residente ay magkaroon po ng vaccine ang lahat ng population natin and many countries also dedicated twice as much as the population of their countries. ‘Yun po talaga ang gusto ng presidente, be accessible to the poor,” Galvez said.

“So ang pinakatarget po natin is 24 million sa tinatawag nating indigents, mga poor communities, mga informals, at saka ‘yung tinatawag nating vulnerable,” he added.

Asked if this initial target could be attained by the first three months of 2021, Galvez said the government’s vaccine roadmap is attainable in a period of three to five years.

Galvez said he will form a team of representatives from government agencies and the private sector as he takes on his role.

This panel will consist of about 20 people who are “experts” on vaccines, diplomacy, logistics, and financing, Galvez said. This inter-agency group will be in charge of the assessment, planning, and execution of the country’s vaccination program.

President Rodrigo Duterte will approve the names in a list Galvez will submit. His recommendation will include people from the Department of Finance, the Department of Health, Department of Foreign Affairs, and the private sector, he said.

“Mayroon po tayong tinatawag na mga new people, at the same time, kasama rin ang IATF,” he said, referring to the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Galvez, a former military chief and currently a peace process adviser, is also chief implementer of the National Task Force against COVID-19 and the vaccine roadmap task group will be under this office.

Earlier, the DOH said Galvez’s appointment as COVID-19 vaccine czar will not cause any changes in the government’s vaccine plan.

Instead, Galvez will fast-track the procurement and rollout of coronavirus vaccines once it becomes available, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual press briefing.

“We will not change anything in our processes just because he was assigned as vaccine czar. All the processes would still be continued,” she said in Filipino.

The health ministry supports the appointment of the former military chief, who will lead the country in the purchase, negotiation, production and distribution of vaccines against the disease, Vergeire said.

“He was placed in that role so we will have a more expeditious and more efficient manner of doing all of these things that we need for the vaccines that will be brought here,” she said.

Malacañang earlier explained Galvez’s new appointment, saying a vaccine czar needs “managerial skills.”

Vergeire stressed they had already formed a vaccine expert panel from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), a technical advisory group from the DOH and vaccinologists from different scientific institutions to ensure the vaccines would be safe and effective.

“This would be still be a whole-of-government, a whole-of-society approach. Secretary Galvez will not be working alone. We will help him. We will support him. The whole government will,” she said.(MNS)

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