The city government has put together a committee of senior officials to plan out ways to purchase COVID-19 vaccines from the international market as soon as the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) comes up with regulations allowing local governments to source out their own vaccine supplies.

Mayor Lucilo Bayron, unveiling the city government’s plans dubbed “CoVacc” Monday, said they are aiming to put up a P500 million funding portfolio with the ultimate objective of inoculating at least 70 percent of the city’s population for free, or roughly 200,000 individuals.

“Our target is 70 percent of the population. Kung ano ‘yong mabibili natin, bilhin na natin para ‘yong vaccination program natin masimulan na natin,” Mayor Bayron said.

Bayron said the funding will be sourced by mainly cutting corners from the regular fiscal year budget and realigning funds from their original appropriation.

Councilor Herbert Dilig, author of local City Ordinance No. 1079 passed on September 25, 2020, earlier secured P127 million COVID-19 vaccine funds, prioritizing “local indigent residents”. The funds were drawn from the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) drugs and medicines allocation of the public health emergency response for COVID-19 pandemic programs appropriated through Ordinance No. 32-2020.

Bayron said that an additional P50 million from 2021 disaster funds were directed towards the “CoVacc” program. He said another P50 million is being reallocated from the city government’s existing project, which has received “duplicate funding”.


Pfizer out of consideration

The city government, however, has ruled out buying the Pfizer vaccine, the first vaccine that successfully completed human trials and so far the most highly regarded with its reported efficacy of 95 percent. This, Bayron stated, is because the city government does not have the cold storage capacity that the Pfizer vaccine demands.

“Let’s forget about Pfizer. It needs to be stored in minus 70 to minus 90 degrees Celsius, we don’t have the capability,” Bayron said.


Conservative budgeting

With a target funding kitty of P500 million, the city government is conservatively estimating the cost of purchasing the vaccine from the pharmaceutical supplier and transporting them to Palawan, at roughly around P2,380 per dose.

While the Philippine government has yet to complete negotiations with any supplier and determine the price tag of each potential supplier, the United States has established reference pricing from its purchase agreements with the pharma companies ranging from $3 to $4 per dose (for Astra Zeneca), or the equivalent of only around P200 per dose, to around $30/dose (for Pfizer).

City officials did not explain the basis of its computations and price assumptions, but Mayor Bayron said they are including other expense factors aside from the cost of the vaccine itself such as transportation and storage.

“This is going to be a combination of drugs, of vaccines because we are not sure of the volume we can procure. Whatever we can purchase, we have to buy so we can start our vaccination program right away,” Bayron said.

Engineer Jovenee Sagun, City Planning and Development Office (CPO) chief and head of the procurement committee, said they are “finding solutions” to overcome challenges in purchasing vaccines once the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved regulations to assure its safety and efficacy.

The prioritization committee, spearheaded by Dr. Paul Saludez, president of the Palawan Medical Society (PMS), is tasked to determine who among the estimated 292,896 city residents are to receive the inoculation.

Dr. Ric Panganiban, chief of the City Health Office (CHO) and head of the actual vaccination program, is set to provide the guidelines of the vaccination program, but the beneficiaries would be screened by the CHO, City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) and City Planning Office (CPO).