The Philippines may have to wait until 2023 to eradicate the threat of Covid-19 as the supply of vaccines worldwide remained volatile, health authorities said on Monday.

In a Senate Committee of the Whole hearing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the government’s goal was to restore normalcy in the country by 2023 with a “safe, equitable and cost-effective” vaccination of all Filipinos.

According to Duque, if the supply of vaccines was to keep up or increase, the country would be on track to vaccinate 50 to 70 million Filipinos by yearend, which, according to World Health Organization standards, should be enough to achieve herd immunity.

In the same hearing, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said 80 percent of the global supply of Covid-19 vaccines had already been procured by rich countries, leaving countries like the Philippines scrambling to ink deals with manufacturers.

Galvez said only 18 percent of the global supply of vaccines was available.

“The reality is that more than 80 percent of global supply has already been procured by rich countries. We, along with other countries, are now trying our best to negotiate with different vaccine companies to get a fair share of the vaccines for the remaining 18 percent of the global supply,” Galvez said.

The “main volume” of the country’s Covid-19 vaccines will be sourced from Novavax. The country is negotiating for more or less 40 million doses from Pfizer, 25 to 30 million doses from AstraZeneca and 25 million doses from Sinovac and Gamaleya, Galvez said.

Limited cold storage supply

Galvez said the country could only store Covid-19 vaccines that required subzero-temperature storage facilities in Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao.

He however assured that the government would “devise ways and means.”

In a virtual presser, Palace spokesman Harry Roque warned of spoilage if vaccines weren’t stored properly.

“Diyan lang po iyan maibibigay dito sa Pilipinas sa mga major na siyudad kasi wala naman talaga tayong cold chain capacity outside of Metro Manila na -70°C; ang freezing po ay zero ‘no. Eh mantakin ninyo iyong -70°C, saan tayo kukuha niyan,” he said.

According to Galvez, at least 50,000 Filipinos are expected to be vaccinated by February this year. John Ezekiel J. Hirro