DoH says no conditions set to access US vaccines

The Philippines will have access to potential COVID-19 vaccines being developed by US firms without any strings attached, the Department of Health (DoH) said on Friday, after the presidential spokesman had linked the pardoning of a US Marine to ensuring access.

This as the DoH reported that the country now has over 250,000 coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said none of the US vaccine makers that the government is in talks with had set conditions, adding that all potential vaccines will undergo a regulatory process to ensure safety and efficacy.

“No conditions were provided or given to us,” Ms. Vergeire told a news conference.

The Philippines has met with US vaccine manufacturers Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. to secure a supply of COVID-19 vaccine. It has also held discussions with China and Russia, which are among countries leading the global race to develop coronavirus inoculations.

The government plans to buy 40 million doses worth $400 million for 20 million people, about a fifth of the country’s population of 107 million.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said on Thursday that President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to pardon a US marine convicted of killing a transgender woman nearly six years ago may have stemmed from his desire to ensure access to coronavirus vaccines. But Mr. Roque reiterated on Friday that he was merely stating a personal opinion.

Joseph Scott Pemberton was serving a six- to 10-year sentence for killing Jennifer Laude near a former US navy base in 2014. He will likely be released from a military jail and deported this weekend, the Bureau of Immigration said.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez said US officials were “surprised” by the pardon. While they inquired about Pemberton, they did not push for his release, he told ANC News channel.

250,000 cases, 4,000 dead

In its daily case bulletin on Friday, the DoH reported an additional 4,040 cases, bringing the country’s total COVID-19 tally to 252,964.

The DoH also reported that the number of recoveries has reached 186,606, including 566 newly reported recoveries. An additional 42 deaths were also reported, bringing the total number of fatalities to 4,108.

Meanwhile, the government’s task force against COVID-19 — the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) — on Friday said it had approved the recommendations made by the Department of Communication and Information Technology (DICT) regarding its contact tracing system StaySafe.PH. It will be used as part of the government’s official COVID-19 response along with the DoH’s COVID-19 Data Repository System (CDRS).

“…The training, integration, and the use of StaySafe.PH and the COVID-19 Data Repository System (CDRS) shall be incorporated in the country’s COVID-19 response, particularly, in the response of local government units,” the resolution said.

The task force also approved the DICT’s recommendation for an “enhanced’ RapidPass System. A technical working group in charge of making policies regarding the system will be established.

The RapidPass system was created to make passing through checkpoints easier for frontliners and other authorized persons in areas under lockdown. — Gillian M. Cortez with a report from Reuters

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