By piecing together, the various messages of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), the Office of the President, and vaccination czar Carlito Galvez, Jr., I have come to understand that the goal of the National Vaccination Program is to vaccinate between 50 to 70 million Filipinos within the year or the equivalent of 60% of the population. This will be enough to achieve herd immunity. Government has arranged to import 140 million vaccines from seven suppliers: Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, Sinovac, Gamaleya and Johnson & Johnson. Each person requires two jabs so this inventory is sufficient for only 70 million Filipinos.
We expected 117,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines to arrive last month under the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) program. This should have kicked off the government’s vaccination effort. Unfortunately, the shipment was put on hold due to the government’s failure to pass legislation indemnifying Pfizer against lawsuits. We were also expecting 526,000 jabs from AstraZeneca. This too did not arrive due to shortages in supply. Instead, what we received was 600,000 jabs of Sinovac followed by the 400,000 doses of AstraZeneca from the COVAX program.
For those unaware, the COVAX program is a global initiative of UNICEF aimed to grant equitable access of vaccines to less affluent countries.
Although the vaccines are arriving in trickles these days, the government expects an acceleration of arrivals in the second and third quarters of the year. Fifteen million doses of assorted vaccine brands on top of 9.2 million AstraZeneca serums from COVAX are due to hit Philippine shores in the second quarter. The vaccine roll-out will go on full throttle by the third quarter as 30 to 50 million doses from the seven manufacturers arrive.
Those eligible for the government’s vaccination program fall into four clusters. The first consists of healthcare workers directly engaged in the treatment of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients. The second cluster consists of senior citizens, indigents, and members of the Armed Forces, the National Police, and the Bureau of Fire Protection. The third cluster includes teachers, social workers, government workers, essential workers from the agriculture, tourism, transport, and food manufacturing sectors, people with disabilities, people living in dense areas and overseas Filipino workers. The fourth cluster includes all those not part of the three priority groups.
It is not clear if the government’s vaccination program will be free for all. Although the Department of Health website says it is free for “priority groups,” it does not specify which among the many groups will be exempt from payment. It does say this: “the government is continuing negotiations to ensure adequate vaccine supply for all Filipinos, including those not in the priority groups.” I take this to mean that all medical frontliners, government employees, indigents, and people with disabilities will get their vaccination free of charge. The rest of us will have to pay unless the government has surplus stocks or a sponsor emerges.
Healthy non-senior citizens who work in the private sector and children are the last in the pecking order. They will continue to be exposed to the virus until the fourth quarter of the year, at the earliest.
There are two other ways healthy non-senior citizens and children can get inoculated sooner. The first is through the city in which they have residency. Some cities like Manila, Quezon City, Iloilo, and Davao are importing their own vaccines and will be administering them to their constituencies. Although they too have an order of priority, there is a good chance that there will be enough serum to inoculate all registered residents.
The second way is through one’s employer. Certain entities, like the International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) Foundation, have been given permission by the government to import vaccines. The ICTSI Foundation, in particular, intends to import 20 million Moderna vaccines, 13 million of which will be “donated” to the state, while 7 million will be appropriated to institutional buying groups at (supposedly) no profit.
So far, 287 private corporations and organizations have made advanced reservations, mostly consisting of the country’s top conglomerates. Another 480 small and medium scale enterprises have also confirmed their orders.
A total of 3.5 million vaccines are already spoken for as of the end of February.
The cost of the vaccines vary according to the date of delivery. If one places an order for delivery in the second quarter, the jabs will cost $42 per dose. Deliveries for the second and third quarters cost $28 and $24 per dose, respectively. Payments must be made in US dollars and in advance. The ICTSI Foundation offers no guarantee as to how many vaccines will arrive per quarter since this depends on Moderna’s production.
However, whatever stocks that arrive will be distributed on a prorated basis so as to be fair to all.
VAT (value-added tax) and import tariffs do not apply as vaccine importations are tax exempt. However, all orders are subject to a $1.04 domestic storage and logistics cost by Zuellig Pharma, the logistics partner of ICTSI Foundation.
The Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) has been appointed the consolidator of pre-orders. Hence, those interested in reserving their share of jabs can contact MAP directly. Bear in mind that vaccines orders must be made in lots of 100 doses. Should problems arise and a buyer refunds his prepayment, the buyer can only get 70% of what was originally paid.
Apart from the ICTSI Foundation, the Ayala Group has also been given permission to import vaccines. However, the Ayala Group’s serums are reserved exclusively for Ayala’s ecosystem.
GoNogosyo is also in the process of importing vaccines to be appropriated to buyers, particularly from the SME sector.
Those included in the government’s priority list and the lucky few who can get inoculated through their cities and employers will be the first to have protection against the COVID-19 virus. The rest of us will just have to wait.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist