Fund lack blocks move to develop vaccines; Duque prefers buy option

The Philippines has no budget to develop its own vaccines, which would need billions and billions of pesos that it cannot afford, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Thursday.

In an interview over radio dzMM, Duque said it was more cost-effective to buy vaccines from rich countries that have the capacity to develop the drugs.

“They have economies scale,” Duque said, adding that this made their vaccines cheaper.

He dismissed reports that developing countries are being sidestepped in the distribution of vaccines, saying big companies are mandated to lead in developing vaccines for diseases such as the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

Duque pointed to research in China toward developing an anti-viral drug that would target COVID-19.

READ: DOH sets purchase of anti-viral drug from China

One problem, he said, was that there was no certainty that vaccines developed today would still be effective a year later as viruses mutate.

“So there is a need to be very active in research and follow the mutation trend of the viruses,” he said.

He said to strengthen efforts to combat infectious diseases, the Health department’s Disease Prevention and Control Bureau could be expanded and joined with the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine.

This would centralize the system for disease control and prevention program and intervention, he said.

Duque said hundreds of Filipinos who disembarked from the COVID-19-stricken M/V Diamond Princess cruise ship will be quarantined for another 14 days after they arrive in the Philippines.

“They need to be placed under a new quarantine. We do not know if the virus will return or if there is immunity,” he said.

“The question there is, once you are infected and you get well, could you still get the virus? We don’t know because this is a new virus,” he added.

He said they would complete plans Thursday for bringing the Filipinos home from the cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan.

Some 531 crew members on the Diamond Princess are Filipino, and seven are guest passengers.

With 3,700 people aboard, the ship had 621 COVID-19 infections, 41 of which are Filipinos. All are being treated in Japanese hospitals.

Duque said the Filipino in the United Arab Emirates was in critical condition, while another Filipino in Hong Kong tested positive.

He said the 32 Filipinos repatriated from Wuhan, China, ground zero of the COVID-19 outbreak, were well and would be released from quarantine in New Clark City on Saturday.

The Philippines has confirmed three COVID-19 cases, all Chinese nationals from Wuhan. One has died, while the other two have recovered.

Health workers were monitoring some 135 people for possible infection and have discharged 398 patients who tested negative.

On Wednesday, the Department of Education said national, regional, and off-campus activities that were postponed as a result of the COVID-19 scare may resume on Feb. 24.

In a memo, the department also reminded schools that weekends should be used for cleaning and disinfecting efforts.

“Schools shall ensure that adequate supply of water and soap in schools, and hand sanitizers or rubbing alcohol at entrances of schools and offices and maintain the cleanliness of schools, including the regular disinfection of doorknobs and handles,” the memorandum said. 

READ: Nations take drastic steps to rim spread

READ: Public warned: No cure for n-CoV; only hygiene

Topics: Francisco Duque III , Department of Health , vaccines , new coronavirus
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