MANILA, Philippines — After President Rodrigo Duterte said he wants to inoculate the entire Philippine population once a COVID-19 vaccine is available, Malacañang said it is confident that the vaccine would be affordable to many even if the government cannot shoulder the cost.

During a virtual briefing on Thursday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the finance department estimates that a coronavirus vaccine would cost $10 (around P486) per dose, or $20 (P972) per person as two dosages are required per individual.

The Wall Street Journal reported in September that the vaccine could cost from $4-$25 in the US.

Though Roque was unwilling to give a direct answer on whether the government would, in fact, ensure that the vaccine is given to the entire population for free, he said the state intends to fund the inoculation of the poor, the police, the military, and frontliners.

In total, he said these demographics make up 20 million of the country’s about 113 million strong population.

“The president assured [the poor] not to worry, that they will be prioritized, and that he will do everything to make sure that they will be vaccinated before the rich,” he said in Filipino.

P2B for vaccination included in 2021 budget
Roque said that it would cost an estimated P2 billion to inoculate the priority demographics previously mentioned and that this amount is already included in the proposed budget for 2021. He added that if the vaccine becomes available in 2020, the amount will be borrowed from the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the presidential spokesman said it would cost around P12 billion pesos if the government were to vaccinate the entire population.

“But actually, if you look at the the pharmaceutical industry, the rich will not be left behind, they can always buy it because they have the money. Our estimate for the vaccine is not that high,” he added partially in Filipino.

“However, we cannot ensure that PhilHealth will have enough funds so we need to prepare additional funds that is not from PhilHealth,” he said in Filipino.

He also stressed that the 20 million priority individuals — or the 40 million doses— were an initial target.

‘Political placebo?’
Roque also brushed off criticism that the president’s references to a forthcoming coronavirus vaccine are a “political placebo.” Instead, he countered that the president’s remarks are “based on science.”

“The fact that there are many [vaccines] in their [Phase 3] of clinical trials means that…there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Roque said in a mix of English and Filipino.

However, he also said that the president’s comments were “intended to address the pandemic fatigue” of Filipinos.

When asked if the president was privy to any information on the advanced development of some vaccines, Roque replied that Duterte is “a voracious news reader.” The presidential spokesman also mentioned a New Yorker article which reported that China National Biotec Group is expected to announce some level of approval for a vaccine in October.

Last month, a study by the The Lancet COVID-19 Commission placed the Philippines 66th out of 91 countries in terms of suppressing the spread of the coronavirus disease. They attributed this dismal ranking to Duterte’s style of political leadership which they branded as “medical populism.”

Medical anthropologist Gideon Lasco said this leadership style involves “simplifying the pandemic by downplaying its impacts or touting easy solutions or treatments, spectacularizing their responses to crisis, forging divisions between the ‘people’ and dangerous ‘others,’ and making knowledge claims to support the above.”