DOF assures enough funds for procuring vaccine supply

Aileen Cerrudo   •   June 15, 2021   •   453

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Finance (DOF) on Tuesday (June 15) assured that the national government has enough budget to procure coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine doses.

During the hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole on the COVID-19 vaccination drive, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the government’s P88.6 billion budget is enough to vaccinate 70 million adult Filipinos. This, he said, will cover 149 million vaccine doses.

Dominguez also said that the government will be able to obtain 200 million doses if the private sector will also procure around 25 million doses to be added to the 30 million doses that “are currently in the pipeline for negotiations”.

When asked about the price range for the procurement of vaccines, Dominguez replied it ranges from P323.75 – P1,323.30 per dose. He, however, did not disclose which brands, saying it would violate the non-disclosure agreements with vaccine manufacturers.

Senator Franklin Drilon stated the need for the Senate as well as the public to know the price range of the procured COVID-19 vaccines.

“To be clear, wala po akong sinasabing may nagnakaw. Maliwanag po iyan. Tinatanong ko lang kung magkano ba dahilan sa ito’y obligasyon natin bilang mga senador, obligasyon natin kung paano natin ginagastos ang kanilang pera,” he said.

(To be clear, I was not saying there is corruption. It is clear. What I am asking is how much were the doses since this is our obligation as Senators. It is our obligation to know how we spend public funds.)

“This is a public forum, we cannot disclose publicly. Now if COA [Commission on Audit] wants to audit us, it is open for audit. I personally designed the financing of this involving ADB [Asian Development Bank], AIIB [Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank], and involving World Bank as a double-check. Because they will not pay for that if they see that we are overpaying,” Dominguez said.

The government is also reviewing to have an additional P20 billion to procure doses for the vaccination of children ages 12 to 15 years old. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said it already released over P660 billion funds for the government COVID-19 response.

Meanwhile, the first batch of vaccine supply for the private sector will arrive on June 17.

Vaccine Czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. also said that private companies will give excess doses to the local government.

“Most of the private sector indicated to me that they will donate it to the LGU. considering that when we procured the vaccine the intention of the private sector is really to help the government in producing the dosage,” he said. -AAC (with reports from Harlene Delgado)

PH gov’t tracing 253 passengers from Africa amid looming threat of Omicron

Robie de Guzman   •   December 3, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine government is tracing and monitoring more than 200 travelers who arrived in the country from African nations in the last two weeks amid the threat of new COVID-19 variant called Omicron, the Department of Health (DOH) said Friday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said they have traced a total of 253 passengers from South Africa who arrived in the Philippines from November 15 to 29.

“BOQ has started to locate these passengers,” Vergeire said in a virtual press forum.

Of the 253 passengers, 249 were returning overseas Filipinos and four were foreigners. Authorities have traced 71 of these individuals.

The number includes three foreigners still in quarantine in Western Visayas after yielding negative test results.

Vergeire said three of these passengers initially tested positive for COVID-19. One passenger came from South Africa, another from Burkina Faso, and the other from Egypt.

She said samples of these travelers may undergo genome sequencing for variant identification.

“We are still processing the batch that we are going to subject to whole genome sequencing for this week. Results might be tonight or maybe tomorrow,” she said.

“Meron pong dumating na 253 from South Africa noong Nov. 15 to 29, may tatlo galing Burkina Faso; and mayroon 541 galing Egypt. Each of these countries nagkaroon ng isang traveler who tested positive for COVID-19,” she added.

The Philippine government banned the entry of travelers – except for Filipino repatriates – from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy until December 15 as a precautionary measure against the Omicron variant.

The DOH said the heavily mutated variant and potentially more infectious than other coronavirus variants have now been detected in 35 countries.

The variant was first discovered in South Africa.

It has been designated as a variant of concern but the World Health Organization said further studies are needed to better understand the variant’s effect on vaccines, treatment, and the virus’ transmissibility.

Pharma companies to develop drugs based on COVID-19 variant

Maris Federez   •   December 3, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Pharmaceutical companies are looking into developing drugs specific to each COVID-19 variant.

Health experts involved in the clinical trial of molnupiravir in the country said the oral anti-viral pill can help  fight the Omicron variant.

The Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, stressed the need for extensive studies to check on the efficacy of the anti-viral pill against COVID-19.

Based on data collected in the previous clinical trial results, molnupiravir is able to prevent the condition of patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms from getting worse.

The Philippines is one of the countries that participated in the global clinical trial of molnupiravir.

According to medical experts and clinical investigators in the country, molnupiravir can help destroy COVID-19 variants of concern like the heavily mutated Omicron.

“The game changer of this pandemic or any other pandemic or any other disease in the world will always be the treatment. Kasi kapag may gamot, mas madaling i-address iyong problemang iyon,” said Dr. Benjamin Co, clinical investigator from the Asian Hospital Medical Center.

“You’re able to diagnose patients early, you are able to treat them even if they are breakthrough infections, and you are able to see patients who are exposed to those index cases,” he added.

“The mutant strains would still respond kasi doon sa core or inner mechanism nagwo-work iyong molnupiravir and not sa surface or sa superficial na spike proteins niya,” said Dr. Joel Santiaguel, clinical investigator from the Quirino Memorial Medical Center.

“Kahit magka-variation na mutation, may changes doon sa spike protein. Active pa rin ang molnupirvir mo against the virus,” he added.

The FDA also said that even the investigational drugs against COVID-19 that are currently being used are able to give relief to patients.

Nevertheless, the FDA underscored the need for in-depth studies to prove the efficacy of the new anti-COVID-19 drugs.

“Iyong mga gamot for severe COVID katulad ng mga steroid, katulad ng tocilizumab, baricitinib kapag severe case, aandar pa rin iyan sa dito sa Omicron,” FDA director-general Usec. Eric Domingo said.

“Pero hindi pa natin sigurado ang ibang gamot, itong monoclonal antibodies at mga antiviral, iyong mga bago kung magwo- work sila, as well,” the FDA chief added.

Clinical investigators invite volunteers for the one-month Phase-3 of the clinical trial for molnupiravir in the Philippines.

They must be 18 years old or older, unvaccinated, and with exposure to a COVID-19 positive person or to an Index Case.

Index cases are mostly economic or medical frontliners who expose family members when they go home.

The clinical trials will check the efficacy of molnupiravir against the Omicron variant.

Blood specimens will be collected from the participants to check the variant that an individual possesses and the effect of molnupiravir on them.

“Genotyping is very important so that we know what the variant of the individual is. Remember when this clinical trial was rolled out, the variants of concern were already rolling out in the world – si Gamma, si Beta, si Alpha, si Delta,” Dr. Co said.

“And that’s the reason why you can see how successful this drug is in addressing the concern of whether it will work or it will not work with SARS- COV2 infection. So far, ang datos po shows that it is very good drug,” he added. —/mbmf (from the report of UNTV Correspondent Aiko Miguel)

Gov’t travel restrictions bar OFWs bound for Red List countries from leaving

Maris Federez   •   December 3, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) bound for the countries under the Red List cannot still go out of the country amid the threat of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

The POEA said that even if OFWs have complete travel documents, they still cannot leave because there are no outbound international flights going to their employment destination.

POEA administrator Attorney Bernard Olalia stated that because inbound flights from counties under the Red List are banned, outbound flights going there are affected as well.

“At bilang nasa kategorya ng Red List countries, kanselado po lahat ng incoming international flights, at pagka kanselado po ang international incoming flights ay syempre wala ring outbound international flights,” he said.

Based on the resolution of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases seven countries were added to the Red List were cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant which health authorities categorized as a variant of concern.

These countries are Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy.

Inbound flights from these countries were banned to prevent the entry of the said variant.

Olalia said that POEA will issue a labor advisory to OFWs affected by the travel ban to guide them on what action to take.

Meanwhile, OFWs from the Red List countries will be allowed to return to the Philippines via repatriation flights organized by the government, the Bayanihan Flights, and flights initiated by non-government organizations.

“Kapag galing po kayo sa ibang bansa na ganyan, at ito pong flight ninyo ay isang government-initiated flight, o kaya NGO-initiated flight, o kaya Bayanihan flight na in-arrange po ng POLO o DFA. Kayo po ay papayagan namang makalapag dito kapag kayo ay OFW,” Olalia said.

The POEA said OFWs who are interested to avail of the repatriation flights may coordinate with the Philippine Embassy for the availability of slots.

OFW passengers are required to undergo the 14-day mandatory facility-based quarantine, as well as, an RT-PCR testing on the 7th day upon arrival in the Philippines. —/mbmf (from the report of UNTV Correspondent Aileen Cerrudo)

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