Allow private sector to buy vaccines, govt told

A business organization on Wednesday urged the government to permit the private sector to purchase coronavirus vaccines directly from accredited sources to speed up vaccination efforts.

In a statement, Benedicto Yujuico, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), said the government should accelerate its vaccine procurement and rollout “to ensure the safety of our workers and people, improve consumer confidence and hasten the recovery of our economy.”

It must “allow the private sector to import vaccines without restrictions or conditions so we could move quickly and efficiently in vaccinating more people,” he added.

Yujuico’s remarks come after the government reaped sustained criticism for its slow vaccine procurement, for which it cited limited supplies and people’s hesitancy to get inoculated as reasons.

It aims to vaccinate 50 to 70 million Filipinos this year.

The Philippines received in late February 600,000 Sinovac vaccine shots donated by China and 525,600 doses of the vaccine developed by British drugmaker AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford through the Covax facility.

It expects the arrival of 1.4 million Sinovac doses this month and an additional 900,000 AstraZeneca doses in late March or early April through the same facility.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. earlier announced that the government was able to secure 30 million doses from Novavax. But these are expected to arrive in the latter part of the year.

The PCCI said the government should consider House Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez’s proposal to allow the private sector to buy and import vaccines for their employees and their families tax-free.

This woulld ease pressure on the government, which has a limited budget to inoculate all or even 70 percent of the population, it added.

The organization also called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to speed up reviewing the applications of various pharmaceutical companies for emergency-use authorization of their vaccines.

“We have to keep pace with our neighbors, which, except for Indonesia, have lower infection rates than us and yet are ahead of us (including Indonesia) in implementing the vaccination program,” Yujuico said.

“We cannot risk being left behind again and revert to being the ‘basket case’ of Asia,” he added.

The group also expressed concern on the Covid-19 vaccine passports now required in many countries, saying this would have an impact on the country, whose economic growth is driven largely by remittance-fueled consumption.

“Without an early widespread rollout of the vaccination program, many of our overseas Filipino workers who found themselves repatriated because of Covid-19 may be unable to return to their work once restrictions are lifted and find themselves without jobs,” Yujuico said.