Senator Manny Pacquiao said Monday he was seeking a "direct line" to U.S. President Joe Biden to fast-track the delivery of 20 million American-made Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to the Philippines.
Pacquiao, a frequent Las Vegas visitor for blockbuster boxing matches, cited the Philippines' urgent need for the jabs in a letter to Biden last month. Some 24 million Filipinos in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces returned to lockdown last month to cap a surge in infections that resulted in record case loads.
There was no immediate response from the White House. Pacquiao said John C. Law, chargé d'affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Manila, told him that the embassy is ready to assist those who need help in obtaining the vaccines.
"Sinusubukan natin na magkaroon tayo ng direct line with U.S. President Biden. Yun ang wino-work out ngayon," Pacquiao told Senate reporters in a video call.
Pacquiao said he would try to leverage his boxing fame to ask Biden for help. "Siguro naman kilala din ako diyan sa U.S., Manny Pacquiao. We do our best na makatulong. Baka mapagbigyan tayo na ma-deliver yung vaccine," he said.
Biden recently pledged to donate 60 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses to the rest of the world that is dealing with a supply shortage while America enjoys a surplus.
Moderna agreed to supply 13 million vaccine doses to the Philippine government under a deal announced last March. Ports tycoon Enrique Razon led a private sector order for 20 million doses.
The Philippines has so far innoculated some two million people using mostly donated jabs from China's Sinovac and Britain's AstraZeneca via the WHO-led COVAX facility. Health Sec. Francisco Duque said herd immunity was possible this year only if bulk of the vaccines for 70 million people arrive before Christmas.
Last Saturday, an initial 15,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccine from Russia were also delivered to the Philippines.
Pacquiao said he wrote to Biden because he found the procurement process too slow. He said he also sought the assistance of Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez.
"Sumulat ako dahil medyo nababagalan ako sa pag-deliver ng vaccine dito sa atin tapos yung ibang bansa, massive na yung vaccination nila," Pacquiao said.