After repeated heartbreak and headache due to the delays of what was promised to be a smooth and early delivery of vaccines, the Philippines finally rolled out its free vaccination program against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on March 1.
Now the question is, where are we in the vaccination program and what should the Filipinos expect at least for the rest of the year?
Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., vaccine czar and chief implementer of the National Task Force COVID-19, said Saturday, March 6, that the country now has an available supply of “more than one million” vaccine doses.
Here is the breakdown: 600,000 doses from Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and 487,200 vials from British-Swede drugmaker AstraZeneca and University of Oxford in England.
The CoronaVac vaccines from Sinovac were delivered on February 28 and were actually donations by the Chinese government to the country.
The Chinese-made vaccines were used in the vaccination roll-out last Monday and as of this writing, around 350,000 Sinovac jabs were already distributed to around 100 hospitals all over the country, according to Galvez.
Meanwhile, the AstraZeneca vaccines were part of the first batch of supply from the Covax facility, a coalition led by the World Health Organization (WHO) which aims to provide all countries with an equal access to the supply of COVID-19 vaccines.
The Philippines is part of this global initiative, thus, it is assured of a supply that will enable the vaccination of 20 percent of its population.
The initial commitment made by the Covax facility to the country was that they will deliver 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines on March 1.
It got delayed due to issues on supply and logistics until the first batch — consisted of 487,200 doses — were finally delivered on March 4. The initial rollout using the AstraZeneca jabs happened on Saturday, March 6, at the Ospital ng Paranaque in Paranaque City.
Vaccine priority With the required two doses per vaccinee, the current supply of 1,087,200 vaccine doses from Sinovac and AstraZeneca will be used to inoculate less than half of the total 1.7 million healthcare workers in the country.
“Due to the limited global supply of vaccines and following the recommendation of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) along with the directive of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, the allocation of vaccines must strictly follow the priority framework issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to ensure that those who have the highest risk of exposure and death will be protected,” Galvez said.
The government’s framework prioritizes medical frontliners and healthcare workers in the vaccine queue.
They are followed by senior citizens, people with co-morbidities, and other government workers and economic frontliners.
After the vaccination of the priority sectors, the general public will be the next to get the shots and Galvez said it might be achieved by May — when the bulk of vaccines purchased by the government arrive.
Commitments, negotiations Within this month, Galvez said that the government is expecting the delivery of one million doses of Sinovac vaccines that it procured from China.
The purchase order was signed on March 4, he said.
Aside from this, the vaccine czar bared that Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian assured him of another 400,000 doses of Sinovac to make their vaccine donations reach one million, too.
Meanwhile, Galvez offered different figures as to the total number of vaccine doses that will come from the Covax facility.
During the vaccination rollout in Marikina City last Tuesday, he said around 3.5 million doses are expected to be delivered from the Covax facility within the month.
But during the vaccine rollout in Paranaque City on Saturday, he said they are anticipating the arrival of around 4.5 to 4.9 million vaccine doses from Covax.
The government has also an ongoing negotiation with American pharmaceutical company Pfizer for the delivery of 117,000 vaccine doses.
It was originally scheduled for delivery last month but got postponed due to the indemnification requirements of Pfizer.
The requirement assures that Pfizer will not be subjected to any litigation once a vaccinee experiences an adverse effect.
Galvez added that a supply agreement was already signed Saturday for the delivery of an undisclosed number of Moderna vaccines from the United States.
In February, Galvez said the government was negotiating with Moderna to secure 20 million doses of its vaccine.
The government also has ongoing negotiations with other firms including US’ Johnson & Johnson, 30 million doses of Novavax from the Serum Institute of India, and Russia’s Gamaleya among others. He said the negotiations were meant to acquire enough supply of vaccines and reach the government’s goal of vaccinating around 70 million Filipinos before the year 2021 ends.
According to the Department of Health, the vaccination of 70 million Filipinos will enable the country to achieve herd immunity, a form of indirect protection which occurs when a sufficient percentage of the population becomes immune to an infectious disease.