THE PHILIPPINE government is considering orders for 24 million units of coronavirus vaccines and may start inoculating Filipinos by May, according to the country’s vaccine czar.

The vaccines might be ordered in the first quarter, Carlito Galvez, Jr., who is in charge of the state’s import and distribution program, told the ABS-CBN News Channel on Thursday.

The inoculation program might start as late as the end of next year if vaccine development and manufacturing are delayed, he told an online news briefing separately.

Mr. Galvez this week said the government would focus on evaluating vaccines and clinical trials this quarter and on procurement and storage in the first quarter of next year.

“Developed countries have already secured a vaccine,” he said. “What we need to do is have an advanced procurement while the vaccine is being produced.”

The government would prioritize 24 million frontliners, indigents and poor communities, Mr. Galvez said.

He said the vaccination program could take three to five years since supply might not be able to keep up with demand.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 1,594 coronavirus infections on Thursday, bringing the total to 389,725.

The death toll rose by 42 to 7,409, while recoveries increased by 468 to 349,543, it said in a bulletin.

There were 32,773 active cases , 83% of which were mild, 10.1% did not show symptoms, 2.5% were severe and 4.4% were critical.

Manila reported the highest number of new cases at 253, followed by Cavite at 126, Davao City at 78, Rizal at 78 and Quezon City at 73.

DoH said six duplicates had been removed from the tally, while 14 cases tagged as recovered were reclassified as deaths. It said 10 laboratories had failed to submit their data on Nov. 4.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte last month said the government had funds to buy coronavirus vaccines, but it needs more so the entire population of more than 100 million could be inoculated.

He said he would look for more funds so all Filipinos could be vaccinated. The President said he was okay with vaccines developed either by Russia or China.

Mr. Duterte said he had spoken with outgoing Russian Ambassador Igor A. Khovaev and was told that Russia intends to set up a pharmaceutical company in the Philippines that will make the vaccines available here.

He said soldiers and the police will be among the first ones to be vaccinated, along with poor Filipinos.

DoH on Wednesday said it was looking at two sets of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine makers for potential government orders when these become available.

The first group consists of drug manufacturers and bilateral partners that may want to conduct clinical trials in the Philippines first.

The other group consists of drug companies that are willing to sell the vaccines to the government.

DoH is also in talks with manufacturers for potential vaccine orders once they finish clinical trials in November.

The agency has said it had developed the expertise to enforce a national vaccine program for the coronavirus.

The coronavirus has sickened 48.5 million and killed 1.2 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Almost 35 million people have recovered from the virus, it said.

It added that active cases stood at 12.5 million, 1% or 89,441 of which or 70,477 were either serious or critical.

The United States had the most infections at 9.8 million, followed by India with 8.4 million and Brazil with 5.6 million. The US also had the most deaths at 239,842, Brazil had 161,170 and India had 124,354. — Gillian M. Cortez and Charmaine A. Tadalan