The government has formed a task group to prepare a COVID-19 vaccination program to ensure the deployment of vaccines in target areas, Malacanang said Friday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the COVID-19 Immunization Program Management Organizational Structure of the National Task Force Against COVID-19 will be headed by the Department of Health (DOH).
“The creation of a task force is to ensure the successful and efficient deployment of COVID-19 vaccines to the target population,” Roque said in a statement.
However, Roque did not mention if a vaccine czar would be appointed.
President Duterte has named other czars to respond to the pandemic, such as officials to oversee testing, isolation, treatment, and contact tracing efforts.
The government plans to vaccinate about 20 million Filipinos for free. Priority will be given to the poor, policemen and soldiers.
Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato de la Peña had previously said that a vaccine would not be available until mid-2021.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said he would give preference to the vaccines being developed by Russia and China because other countries allegedly asked for advance payment.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said government officials were scheduled to meet on Friday with representatives from AstraZeneca, one of the leading developers of a candidate vaccine against COVID-19.
“We’re meeting AstraZeneca later with FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Will assure them fairness across the board, no favors, no funny stuff, we need all the vaccines we can get,” Locsin said on his Twitter account.
Locsin said once the supply is available, the European drug maker’s candidate vaccine would be “sold at cost.”
He also clarified that AstraZeneca has no plans to extend its clinical trials to Southeast Asia after FDA Director-General Eric Domingo said the pharmaceutical firm has expressed interest in conducting a clinical study in the Philippines.
“I just talked to AstraZeneca. It is not conducting trials anywhere in Southeast Asia and yet Indonesia has preordered 100 million doses; so since we are all equal members of one human race it doesn’t matter. The primary consideration should be cost per dosage,” he said.
The clinical trials of AstraZeneca and University of Oxford’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine have recently resumed in the US after it was put on hold due to an illness of a volunteer.
Manila is also in talks with Chinese firms currently in the final stages of clinical trials.
Last week, China’s Sinovac Biotech submitted to the FDA Philippines its application to conduct Phase 3 of clinical trials of its vaccine in the country.
The government is also evaluating vaccines of Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute and other pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer.
The Department of Health earlier said the third phase of the World Health Organization (WHO) Solidarity Trial on a possible Covid-19 vaccine is also set to start in the Philippines by the end of 2020.
Manila, meanwhile, has secured membership in the Gavi COVAX alliance to ensure access to the global COVID-19 vaccine supply.
The COVAX or Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, co-led by the WHO, represents the largest portfolio of potential COVID-19 vaccines. It is a global initiative among vaccine manufacturers and foreign governments to provide countries an efficient vaccine against coronavirus.
The full list of candidate vaccines under COVAX is as follows: Inovio, United States of America (Phase I/II); Moderna, United States of America (Phase III); CureVac, Germany (Phase I); Institut Pasteur/Merck/Themis, France/ United States of America /Austria (Preclinical); AstraZeneca / University of Oxford, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Phase III); University of Hong Kong, China (Preclinical); Novavax, United States of America (Phase I/II); Clover Biopharmaceuticals, China (Phase I); and University of Queensland/CSL, Australia (Phase I).
As of Oct. 29, there were 376,935 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, including 7,147 deaths and 329,848 recoveries.
The FDA on Friday said the country’s vaccine expert panel is reviewing the application of an Australian pharmaceutical company for COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials in the country.
“There’s a number three company that has shown interest in doing clinical trials here in the Philippines and they are undergoing pre-screening of the Vaccine Expert Panel,” said FDA Director General Eric Domingo.
Doming was referring to Clover Biopharmaceuticals from Australia.
The firm submitted its application to the VEP earlier this week, Domingo said.
Aside from this, the proposed clinical trials for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate Janssen are still being evaluated by the expert panel.
China’s Sinovac has already secured the VEP’s nod and is undergoing ethics and regulatory reviews.
The formal evaluation of Russia’s Sputnik V that was developed by Gamaleya Research Institute, on the other hand, has not begun yet as additional information is still being requested by the country’s panel.
The FDA expects to come up with its evaluation on the clinical trial bid for Sinovac in two weeks, Domingo said.