The Philippine government is considering borrowing up to $9 billion from the World Bank to help fund the country’s purchase of a potential Covid-19 vaccine as it starts negotiations with a leading pharmaceutical company for at least three million doses of the drug that will be given primarily to health workers.
Carlito Galvez Jr, Covid-19 national task force chief, on Monday said the Philippines would have to enter into “multilateral engagements with our credit partners”, such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, since the allotted budget for the vaccine cannot be used to buy the drug in advance.
Galvez said Secretary of Finance Carlos Dominguez III was already working on how much the government could borrow from the World Bank for the advance procurement of the vaccine.
The government has set aside 10 billion pesos ($207 million) and may get an additional eight billion pesos for vaccines, Galvez said. This is apart from the 25 billion peso standby fund for Covid-19 response under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, he said.
“Plus more or less the $5 to $9 billion that can be credited to our account, we already have allocated a lot of funds. This is why the President [Rodrigo Duterte] is very much confident that we already have the money, and he will still get more, for the vaccine,” Galvez said.
In September, the Department of Health said some vaccine makers required advance payment for the Philippines to secure supplies. The procurement law, however, prohibits agencies from paying preordered items.
Galvez said the government was planning to buy an initial 50 million doses of a vaccine for 25 million Filipinos, mostly health workers and the elderly.
Earlier, British-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca announced that if its large-scale Phase III clinical trials proved successful, it would ramp up manufacturing of its vaccine, which could be out in the market by January next year.
Galvez said the country’s vaccine expert panel gave AstraZeneca a “good evaluation”, but he did not provide details.
He, however, said the government had already met thrice with AstraZeneca and had been given assurance that the vaccine would be accessed by poor countries and sold at cost.
Of all the vaccines that have so far been evaluated by the panel, AstraZeneca’s is the cheapest at $5 per dose.
“Right now our negotiations [with AstraZeneca] are looking at accessing at least three to five million [doses]. But we’re working to [raise it to] at least 10 million doses for our [medical] front-liners,” he said.
But Galvez sought to temper expectations, saying that despite these developments, there was a possibility that the bulk of the supplies needed by the country may not arrive till early 2022.
“As of this moment, if we can close negotiations within this year, there may be hope. Realistically, we may get 10 to 15 million [doses] between May and July,” he said.
Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network