The Department of Health said Monday it set aside an initial P2.4 billion for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines, subject to change depending on the price. President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said a vaccine could be available as early as this year and the country could go "back to normal" by December.
Over the weekend, Russia offered to supply vaccines to the Philippines and Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. thanked Moscow's top envoy in Manila for the gesture. The Philippines has nearly 130,000 COVID-19 cases as of Sunday, the highest in Southeast Asia. Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal are also under MECQ, the second highest quarantine, until Aug. 18.
The head of the National Task Force on COVID-19, Defense Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, said earlier Monday that Metro Manila was ready to return to GCQ, the second lowest quarantine, to allow more businesses and work to resume.
Securing a vaccine will help the Philippines decisively defeat COVID-19, said Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez, after second quarter gross domestic product data shrank by 16.5%, sinking the country into a recession.
Up to five vaccine candidates are on Phase 3 human trials, the last step before commercial availability, Dominguez said on July 31. These include three from China and one each from the U.S. and the U.K., he said.
The Philippines, through the Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines, would buy enough vaccines for an initial 20 million people. At two doses each and at $10 per dose, the vaccination program could cost $400 million or P20 billion, Dominguez said.
On top the search for a vaccine, the Philippines will also hold clinical trials on Japanese-made anti-flu drug Avigan as possible treatment for COVID-19 patients.