Filipino’s Access To More Vaccines

Last Wednesday, I was interviewed on ANC’s Headstart with Karen Davila where I provided an update of our talks with other vaccine manufacturers, along with my suggestion to Secretary Galvez to make the vaccine roll-out open to executives and even to our high-ranking government officials. In this way, we can increase the confidence of the people with the vaccine – ensuring that they are safe. Here are some highlights of the interview:

Karen: The government in partnership with some private firm signed a deal with AstraZeneca for the purchase of 17 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine. We have with us presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion. Alright, perhaps you can give us an update on what is the latest.

Joey: Well, we just signed for the 15 million for both private sector and LGU, combined. For the first batch, there are primarily 35 companies – which secured 2.6 million doses – and with the second batch, there were about 340 companies, plus the LGUs – a total of about 17 million doses good for 8.5 million Filipino people, signed and paid.

The expected date of arrival for the first batch would be between May and June, then the succeeding batch will move towards July, August, and September. Hopefully, latter part of the second quarter and bulk of them in the third quarter. That’s where we are right now.

We’re also requesting AstraZeneca for batch 3 because the list of the companies on the waitlist is huge and I was told by Lotis Ramin, the country president of Astra, that they have close to 70 plus LGUs waiting for allocation. But she said that hopefully, they get some news and we’re praying for that. The Philippines needs, to my mind, close to 60 to 70 million vaccines, at least this year.

Karen: Pag ganon ba Joey how does it work? This is for the ordinary person to understand. These companies they inoculate essentially their employees, right? How does it work?

Joey: There is a tripartite agreement between the pharma company, us the donor, and the government. So what happens here is we donate for the private sector 100 percent to the government.

Karen: I thought it was half?

Joey: No, because the government should be the one to bring it in under EUA – only the government is allowed to purchase. The way it’s done is 100 percent is donated, but in the understanding of the tripartite agreement, half of that will be given to our employees.

Karen: So technically, it’s 100 percent donated to the government, but then as to who to inoculate, the agreement is half to be given to the employees of the private sector that bought the vaccines.

Joey: That’s right. In the Senate hearing, Cynthia Villar was wondering why the government is quite strict on who will we inoculate with the private sector. I was able to talk to Secretary Galvez last night and I was telling him we can adjust to inoculate the rank and file. We are already paying for the vaccines, we’re even going to give it to the contractual workers. We have to show solid confidence that these vaccines are really safe, so let us also vaccinate our supervisors, managers, executives, and the CEOs of the company, which is only two percent of the company, and, of course, the key owners. He was very favorable to that approach.

I said if we won’t vaccinate our key executives and even myself, the confidence on the vaccine will be questionable. The survey shows that the take up of the vaccine is quite low, so we have to really show that these vaccines are safe. And with all the news on social media of these happenings, we have to counteract all of that. Hopefully, the President and the Cabinet will take it in full view of the public and show that these vaccines are safe – that what we are buying is safe for the Filipino people.

Karen: Now, you’re concentrated with AstraZeneca. I mean, not you personally, but these groups that you put together. In time, are you bringing in Moderna and other vaccines? How does that work?

Joey: We are in talks right now with Novavax and the government has secured the allocation with Novavax. Of course, AstraZeneca’s program is excellent because it’s zero profit – that’s why the price is extremely affordable – and it’s the cheapest vaccine today with relatively high efficacy.

Karen: This is quite interesting because, yes, the private sector’s taking a proactive approach, the private sector is aggressive, you’ve even put a down payment, then it doesn’t make sense. Are any of you accessing frankly the P82 billion that’s been set aside for vaccine purchase. I mean, who’s gonna spend that?

Joey: The government will have to accelerate its purchase; I think they are moving in that direction. They still have to source, the funding for the P80 billion, I’m told. What’s earmarked is about P2.5 billion, but the P80 billion in the budget, that they will still have to source. You know, we are in the situation right now that the entire world or every country is out there grabbing vaccines. To my mind, the private sector, we have the cash, we will borrow if we have to borrow. In other words, sinong mauuna? Every country is grappling for these vaccines, then AstraZeneca got the MHRA approval, suddenly, the whole thing is in short supply.

So now, there are other vaccine companies out there like Novavax which is good. But it is going to be a little bit later, third quarter will be the implementation here. Moderna, thanks to Ricky that he is being proactive, he’s part of the group that’s supporting this initiative of really getting the private sector to help the government move faster because this is the only way. We cannot afford not to turn around the economy because the cost of our losses on a monthly basis is huge.

And Karen, I always relate this, how much is a test kit for an antigen, P500. How much is the AstraZeneca vaccine, P500. Between a solution, which is our nuclear warhead, and a band-aid which provides visibility, but you’ll have to continue to do it – let’s put the resources where it’s the most important, the cure potentially.

Karen:  My last question to you is, what can the government improve on in terms of the negotiations, purchase, and roll out.

Joey: I think what we really have to do is to source out the financing and the moment we have supply, we should secure that supply immediately and even pay a down payment if necessary, especially if these vaccines have their respective FDA approval, I think that’s foremost.

All efforts are now being pushed to try and source these vaccines. Maybe we are a little late because of certain rules that the Philippines cannot do, we cannot buy vaccines without FDA approval and I think that’s fair, there are certain limitations. But I think we have to speed up the funding part so that we can be more aggressive.

Moving forward, I think the private sector doesn’t really need to buy vaccines because the government could pay for their employees as part of the immunization program. If the private sector, however, wants to accelerate the opening up of the economy, providing assistance in the procurement of the vaccines would be a small help for the country since it’s also our businesses that are at stake, the employment of the people, and most importantly, the confidence of everyone – that’s why we call this project ‘A Dose of Hope.’