How the Philippines is fighting its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic

Published April 30, 2021, 9:36 AM

by Martin Sadongdong

Facts about our ramped-up vaccination

COVAX ON WHEELS A senior citizen is getting inoculated with anti-COVID-19 vaccine inside  the newly launched QC ProtecTodo Bus or a vaccination bus at Bulacan St, Payatas B, Quezon City, April 26 2021 (Photo by Mark Balmores)

Almost all countries have been affected since an unseen mercenary now known as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) hit the world in late 2019. But it has been proven that strict adherence to minimum health standards and implementing an effective vaccination program could be the key in conquering the pandemic, and the Philippines is trying to do exactly just that.

So far, the government has vaccinated nearly 1.3 million Filipinos, according to Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr, vaccine czar and chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19.

“We already have 1,279,223 Filipinos [who were] already vaccinated,” he said in a Cabinet meeting presided by President Duterte on April 19.

Those vaccinated include 965,960 healthcare frontliners (A1 priority) who got their first dose and 198,534 A1 priority who had their second dose. There were also 132,948 senior citizens (A2) and 180,315 persons with comorbidities (A3) who were inoculated against COVID-19.

This means that a total of 1,477,757 doses have been administered by the government under its free inoculation program since it kicked off on March 1. 

It is worthy to note that the number of administered doses was greater than the total number of vaccinated individuals because some have received their second dose of COVID-19 jab.

The government is eyeing to inoculate 500,000 to one million individuals weekly from April to May, and two million to three million weekly from June to July, according to Galvez. 

Within this period, the vaccination of frontline workers in other essential sectors (A4) and indigent population (A5) are also being considered so a lot more qualified persons can get the jab while following the priority list of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG).

With a population of around 100 million, Galvez acknowledged that the country has a lot more to do to achieve its goal of vaccinating around 50 to 70 percent—or 50 to 70 million Filipinos—by the end of the year. 

He said the government is putting its best foot forward to realize their vaccination target so the country could achieve herd immunity, a form of indirect protection when a sufficient percentage of the population becomes immune to an infectious disease.

This very same goal has been achieved in other parts of the world such as Israel and British overseas territory Gibraltar, among others, where face masks are no longer required when going out in public after they have vaccinated majority of their population.

Galvez expressed optimism that the vaccination program will pick up its pace once the bulk of vaccines start arriving in the third and fourth quarter. It has not been an easy task as the country faces shortage of vaccines due to global demand.

“The global supply is limited but the government is doing its best to ensure that the country will have its fair share of the vaccines,” he said.

Vaccine deliveries

VACCINATION DRIVE The QC ProtecTodo Bus was launched by the LGU in an effort to go to places in QC that are hard to reach to be able to give the anti-COVID-19 vaccine to locals (Photo by Mark Balmores)

As of April 19, the country has a total supply of 3,025,600 doses of COVID-19 vaccines but millions of doses are set for delivery in the coming months.

The country could also receive its first supply of the Pfizer vaccines. Galvez said that 195,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines could be shipped into the country through the Covax facility “by [the] end of April,” should the government finalize all the “legal requirements” set by the American manufacturer.

The additional 2.4 million doses of Pfizer vaccines that were secured by the government through a separate bilateral agreement may also be delivered “early” in the second quarter, Galvez said.

In May, around four million doses are expected to be delivered to the country. The deliveries will come from Sinovac (two million), Gamaleya (one to two million), and United States’ Moderna (194,000).

In June, around seven to eight million doses of vaccines are set to be flown into the country, including those from Sinovac (4.5 million), Gamaleya (two million), and AstraZeneca (1.3 million). The AstraZeneca supply is part of the total 2.6 million doses bought by the private sector where 50 percent of the supply would be donated to the government.

The bulk of the procured vaccines will start to arrive in the third and fourth quarter. Galvez said a total of 13.5 million doses will be delivered in July, including those from Sinovac (three million), Gamaleya (four million), Moderna (one million), AstraZeneca (two million), Novavax from Serum Institute of India (two million), and Johnson & Johnson from Belgium (1.5 million).

Meanwhile, 20 million vaccine doses are expected to arrive each month from August to December.

Getting the jab

(Photo by Ali Vicoy)

The current supply is consisted of only two vaccine brands: CoronaVac from Sinovac Biotech and AstraZeneca.

But there are six vaccine manufacturers that were issued with an emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), namely Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac Biotech (CoronaVac), Gamaleya Research Institute (Sputnik V), and most recently Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), and Bharat Biotech (Covaxin).

The first batch of jabs that reached the country were from Sinovac Biotech.

On Feb. 28, 2021, Sinovac donated a total of 600,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the country—500,000 of which went to the government while the remaining 100,000 were given to the military.

The donations were followed by the arrival of 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines on March 4 and March 7 through the Covax facility, a World Health Organization (WHO)-led collaboration, which aims to provide countries with equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. The supply from Covax was produced out of the donations by Western and other rich countries.

On March 24, another 400,000 doses of CoronaVac vaccines from Sinovac Biotech came as a donation by China to the government. This raised the total number of vaccine donations by China to one million. After a long wait, the first batch of procured vaccines were finally delivered on March 29, composed of one million doses of CoronaVac vaccines.