Duterte says he's looking for funds in bid to give coronavirus vaccine to all Filipinos

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 14) — President Rodrigo Duterte said he is working on securing more funds to ensure that all Filipinos will be given a coronavirus vaccine – with the poor, the police, and soldiers getting priority.

“I have the money already for the vaccine but hahanap pa ako ng maraming pera (but I will look for more money) because you know there are now 130 million Filipinos and to me, ideally, all should have a vaccine, without exception,” Duterte said in his address to the nation on Wednesday night.

The Bayanihan to Recover as One Act allots ₱10 billion for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines, while ₱2.5 billion is set aside in the proposed 2021 national budget.

Duterte reiterated that poor Filipinos will be prioritized once a vaccine becomes available, along with members of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“They are vital to the security of the state. They should be the first also. Tayo, kaming mga civilian, pwede tayong last (We, civilians, can be last),” he added.

But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), three target groups should be administered with the vaccine first. They are the frontline health and social care workers, people over the age of 65, and those with underlying conditions that put them at higher risk of death.

A director of the Department of Science and Technology earlier said the Philippines can secure vaccines for 20% of the population through the COVAX, a global collaboration to fast-track the development and production of new COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines, as well as ensure equitable access to them.

The vaccines will be given to healthcare workers and members of high-risk groups such as the sick and elderly, said Jaime Montoya, executive director of the DOST– Philippine Council for Health Research and Development.

The WHO remains hopeful a vaccine against the coronavirus disease will be available by yearend, while Philippine officials expect to get access to it by April 2021.

Duterte is counting on the vaccines being developed by China or Russia, reiterating his willingness to be the first to take it amid safety concerns.

“Ako naghihintay akong tawagin ako ng China o Russia, I’d be glad to open up my sleeves, and sige. Kasi may kumpyansa nga ako,” Duterte said.

[Translation: I am just waiting for China or Russia to call me, I’d be glad to open up my sleeves because I have confidence in their vaccine.]

Duterte also revealed Russia’s plan to build a pharmaceutical plant in the Philippines, citing his recent talk with outgoing Russian Ambassador Igor A. Khovaev.

The Philippines will be part of the WHO-led Solidarity trials on potential coronavirus vaccines, which could begin at the end of the month. The government said this will be prioritized in the assignment of trial sites, but independent trials by private vaccine companies will be accommodated as well.

At least three firms from Russia, China, and the United States have submitted applications to conduct a Phase 3 clinical trial in the country. This is the critical stage where thousands of patients have to be inoculated with the potential vaccine. It is also usually the final step before approval for mass rollout.

CNN Philippines' Carolyn Bonquin contributed to this report.