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Philippines' richest chip in for COVID-19 vaccines

The Philippines' richest families are chipping in to ensure the availability of around one to two million COVID-19 vaccines widely expected to hit markets by mid-2021.

National Task Force Against COVID-19 Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr thanked Enrique Razon Jr, Lucio Tan, Ramon Ang, the Sy siblings, and Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion for placing orders for over one million vaccines through advance market commitments (AMCs) – a financing mechanism that basically assures funders of the vaccine once produced.

"Nagpapasalamat po tayo kay Enrique Razon na mayroon po rin siyang binigay na 300,000 doses. Ang BDO at saka po 'yung ibang mga Lucio Tan Group at saka San Miguel Corporation saka Go Negosyo, nakapag-raise na po sila ng more than one million. And hopefully, baka tataas pa 'yon ng one or two million doses," Galvez said in a briefing at Malacañang on Tuesday, November 17.

(We thank Enrique Razon, he will give 300,000 doses. BDO, the Lucio Tan Group, and San Miguel Corporation, and Go Negosyo as well, they were able to raise over one million [vaccines] and hopefully raise one to two million more doses.)

Galvez noted that the tycoons are set to donate 50% to 80% of what they are set to procure, while the rest will be given to their essential workers at no cost.

The private sector has played a big role in the Philippines' pandemic response. From donations of various goods, to testing employees and poor households, conglomerates have stepped in, as the government has drawn flak for how it is handling the crisis.

Private sector

Galvez's latest statements point to the private sector doing some heavy lifting once more – this time, in vaccinating the country's entire population of around 108 million, as President Rodrigo Duterte's economic team allotted a meager amount for the much-needed vaccine.

The proposed 2021 budget contains only P2.5 billion for COVID-19 vaccine procurement, with several lawmakers expressing dismay over the allocation.

The Department of Health (DOH) has estimated that it needs around P12.9 billion to meet the target of vaccinating at least 20% of the entire population for free. (READ: DOH short of P10 billion for COVID-19 vaccines)

The DOH earlier explained that the proposed budget was crafted before Duterte's directive to vaccinate the entire population, which is why only P2.5 billion was allocated for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Meanwhile, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III is targeting a P20-billion fund for the purchase of the coronavirus vaccine through a loan from the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines.

Galvez likewise urged Duterte to enter into deals with the private sector for vaccine financing and procurement.

"We have also various modes of financing including private-public tripartite agreement without the cost [to] the government," Galvez said.

"So the private sector will finance it by buying directly [from] the vaccine company…with the regulation [by] the DOH…who will decide where the vaccine will be given."

In the same briefing, Galvez recommended that the government enter into an AMC, with the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank to act as finance managers.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier recommended the creation of an executive order, which would allow the Food and Drug Administration to issue emergency use authorization to hasten procurement.

The Philippines is currently looking at 17 possible sources of vaccines from various countries.

Out of the 17, 9 are currently undergoing the 3rd phase of trials, with Pfizer and Moderna reporting promising results.

Galvez noted that trials will be conducted in the Philippines in December 2020 and January 2021. – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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