More cities tapping AstraZeneca for COVID-19 vaccine

SEVERAL cities outside the capital Metro Manila have announced signing or preparing for an agreement with British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca Plc for the purchase of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines. Among these are Dagupan, Ormoc, Bacolod, Iloilo, and Davao. In separate statements over the past week, these local governments said they have either already signed a confidentiality agreement with the company or a tripartite contract involving the COVID-19 national task force. Dagupan Mayor Brian C. Lim announced Saturday that he inked the tripartite agreement Friday to ensure vaccine supply for residents once the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University is approved by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and becomes available in the country.

‘MOST COMPETITIVE’
In Ormoc, the city council on Friday gave Mayor Richard I. Gomez the authority to sign a memorandum of agreement with AstraZeneca for the purchase of 270,000 doses of the vaccine. “It was the most competitive (in price) and most suitable to a tropical country,” City Legal Officer Joy Mejia-Romero said in a statement. Local governments have been preparing localized vaccination plans to complement the national government’s program, which will focus on five priority groups, namely: frontline health workers, indigent senior citizens, remaining senior citizens, remaining indigent population, and non-medical frontline workers such as the police and military. Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said the city’s program, similar to the other cities, will cover sectors that will not be inoculated by the national government. — MSJ

SPMC upgrades test capacity with new lab from Metrobank, GT Foundation, AdDU

THE Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC), one of the biggest state-run hospitals in the country, has a new molecular laboratory that will increase its testing capacity for the coronavirus and other diseases. The facility, formally launched Friday, is a joint project of Metrobank Foundation, Inc. (MBFI) and George Ty Foundation, together with Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU). “With the increasing cases that we are receiving, our existing laboratory is definitely not enough. There are also times that we cannot meet the needs of the region anymore so with the new molecular laboratory, we are very much excited to be embarking on new beginnings because this means more and more people will be benefited because more blood samples would be catered by SPMC,” said SPMC officer-in-charge Ricardo B. Audan. He added that the new facility, which can handle 200 coronavirus samples per day, provides a technological upgrade to the hospital’s laboratory. “GT Capital Holdings and Metrobank Group, through Metrobank Foundation and GT Foundation, have been working hard in supporting various initiatives to address and combat the effects of the pandemic since the start of the lockdown. We advocate and support the conduct of test, trace, treat (T3) to identify the various factors in the development and mitigation of the spread of the virus as well as we support the government’s call for the economic resurgence of our country,” Alfred V. Ty, president of GT foundation, Inc. and trustee of MBFI, said during the launching ceremony. — Maya M. Padillo

Caraga forms committee for balik-probinsya program

THE Regional Development Council of Caraga has formed a committee that will focus on assisting those interested in the government’s “Balik-probinsya” program, which aims to encourage migrants in urban areas to move back to their hometowns. Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles, in a statement on Sunday, said the special committee is also tasked to develop job creation projects and other economic opportunities in the region to attract people to return to their provinces. Caraga is composed of the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, and the Dinagat Islands. The region’s economy grew by 5% in 2019, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). However, it accounted for only 1.6% to the national economic output that year. It’s main industries are mining and agriculture. “Now is the time to realize the full potential of our provinces as economic centers and alternatives to established urban economic hubs,” said Mr. Nograles, who heads the special Committee and is the Cabinet Officer for Regional Development and Security for the region. “Our objective in the special committee is to create an environment where Balik Probinsiya could truly be an alternative employment and long-term living option for those who have previously relocated to urban cities but now want to return to their home provinces to start anew,” he said. — Gillian M. Cortez