(UPDATE) The Philippines on Friday signed a deal with British drugmaker AstraZeneca for the purchase of some 2.6 million COVID-19 vaccines, which will be paid for by the country's richest businessmen, as promising results of clinical trials paint a glimmer of hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight.
Negotiations are underway for an additional order of one million doses, said Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr., the country's vaccine czar, who led the signing alongside Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion.
"Our Filipino people can be assured that we will not be left behind... This is just the beginning of the war to finally end this pandemic," Concepcion said.
Among businessmen picking up the tab for the initiative are Ayala Corp's Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, port magnate Enrique Razon, taipan Lucio Tan, JG Summit CEO Lance Gokongwei, San Miguel Boss Ramon Ang, and the children of late SM shopping mall tycoon Henry Sy Sr.
"I don't think this would have taken off the ground if not for the credibility of all the people here," Gokongwei, who represented the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation, said during the virtual event.
"This lays the foundation and needed momentum for a large-scale vaccination program," Ayala's Zobel said.
Galvez said the "one of a kind" deal would ensure equitable access to the vaccine, calling it the government's "moral obligation."
AstraZeneca's vaccine is expected to cost around P500 for two doses, Concepcion earlier said, noting that the deal, which could immunize over a million Filipinos, would likely be priced at around P600 million to P700 million.
UNDERSTANDING CLINICAL TRIALS:
'It's a risk'
Tycoons are "definitely" putting a bet on AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, Concepcion said, noting that the private sector is "already desperate" as "they already want to end the pandemic."
"We're definitely putting our bet. There is a risk but the potential solution for the economy outweighs the risk," Concepcion said. "I'm not saying we're throwing away money. I'm saying we're willing to take a risk."
While the private sector is open to cooperating with other pharmaceutical firms developing COVID-19 vaccines, Concepcion said only AstraZeneca has so far reached out to offer their vaccine.
Frontliners, particularly health workers, will be prioritized for immunizations, Galvez said.
"Talagang uunahin po natin yung frontliners, health workers. And after that, we will also deploy it geographically," he said.
Should the Philippines secure supplies of COVID-19 vaccines from other drugmakers before AstraZeneca delivers theirs, Galvez said those from the British pharmaceutical firm could be allocated for essential workers in the private sector namely those working in transportation, food production, and utilities.
AstraZeneca earlier announced that its COVID-19 vaccine, which was developed with the University of Oxford has shown "an average efficacy of 70%" in trials. The results ranged between 62% and 90% efficacy depending on the vaccine dosage.
This is lower compared with the efficacy of coronavirus vaccines trialed by rivals Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna which have come in at around 95%.
On Friday, the head of the British pharmaceutical company said its COVID-19 vaccine needs "further study" but expressed confidence that this would unlikely affect the bid for regulatory approval.