Double whammy as PH affected by ‘severe, acute’ vaccine shortage amid rising COVID-19 cases

Published March 30, 2021, 8:54 AM

by Martin Sadongdong

As the government pins its hope on all-out vaccination to contain the spread of the coronavirus, a top official in-charge of fighting the deadly virus has admitted that the Philippines is facing what he describes as severe or acute shortage of global supply of vaccines.


Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., vaccine czar and chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19, said the vaccine shortage was brought by the accelerated vaccination of rich and more developed countries.

“We have a tension in our supply considering that the different countries are escalating their vaccination. With these, they are prohibiting from exporting [the vaccines] from their production so this is really our problem right now. We have a severe, acute shortage in the global supply,” Galvez said.

As of Monday, Galvez said that 1,233,500 vaccines were already deployed nationwide. The country has a current supply of 2,525,600 vaccines.

As early third quarter last year, President Duterte has been promising the Filipinos that the coronavirus pandemic would be over by November or December as scientists, particularly form pharmaceutical companies, were rushing to develop vaccines.

Despite repeated assurance and bravado of the arrival of the vaccines, it turned out later that the Philippine government failed to secure doses of vaccines as promised. As a result, the Philippines was still negotiating for the procurement of vaccine while other countries like Afghanistan, Laos and Myanmar were already rolling out free vaccination as early as December last year and January.

The first three batches of COVID-19 vaccines were actually donated by China and from the COVAX facility of the World Health Organization. The first batch arrived late February this year, two to three months short of the promised vaccine arrival.

Meanwhile, a total of 668,018 individuals have already been inoculated nationwide. This represents around 40 percent of the total 1.7 million healthcare workers or A1 priority that are targeted to be vaccinated until April.

The country is experiencing a surge of new COVID-19 infections which prompted the government to place the National Capital Region, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). This will run from March 29 to April 4.

In fact, a total of 10,016 new cases were recorded on Monday, the highest single-day tally recorded in the country.

Despite the limited supply of vaccine, Galvez said that the vaccination program was starting to pick up as they observed a steady increase in the number of those getting their first dose of vaccines.

During the first week of the vaccination program which kicked off on March 1, Galvez said only 35,000 individuals were inoculated against COVID-19.

In the second week, the number of those vaccinated increased by 170,862. More people received vaccines as an additional 179,626 individuals were inoculated in the third week. Finally, 279,028 more individuals were inoculated in the fourth week.

Galvez expects that the vaccination would further be accelerated with the arrival on Monday of one million CoronaVac shots which were procured by the government from China.

In April, another 1.5 million CoronaVac vaccines will be delivered by Sinovac to the Philippines while two million doses will arrive in May.

However, Galvez revealed that Russia slashed the Philippines’ allocation of Gamaleya Research Institute-developed Sputnik V vaccines from three million to 100,000.

“We are requesting for three million but they committed only 100,000,” said Galvez.

He said the Department of Foreign Affairs will coordinate with Russia’s prime minister to appeal the country’s vaccine allocation.

“Talaga pong three million ang kailangan natin kasi po pwede po itong gamitin sa senior citizen (We really need three million [doses] because we can use it for the senior citizens),” Galvez told Duterte.

The delivery of 400,000 AstraZeneca jabs from the Covax facility was also delayed by more than a week now. The vaccines were supposed to be delivered last March 22 as part of the second tranche of supply that were secured by the government from Covax.

Galvez said the vaccines are set to be delivered on or before April 2.