Duque: 114K vaccinated

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    AT least 114,000 health workers have been inoculated since government launched the national vaccination drive against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on March 1, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said yesterday.

    Earlier yesterday, Duque gave the figure of 83,000 to 84,000 inoculated individuals.

    “Everyday, it is increasing. Now, we are doing about 11,000 per day vaccinated individuals.

    We now have 361 vaccination sites all over the country,” he said during a visit to the De Los Santos Medical Center in Quezon City.

    During the first week of the vaccination program, the vaccination rate “was not as quick as we wanted,” he said.

    Duque said more individuals agreed to have themselves vaccinated after the arrival of AstraZeneca vaccines.

    “It is because we have the option of vaccine already. If they don’t want Sinovac, they can have AstraZeneca given to them,” said Duque.

    The country got its first vaccine supply on February 28 — of 600,000 doses of CoronaVac vaccines made by Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech and donated by China. It was followed by 500,000 doses of vaccines made by the British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca PLC, sent through the global sharing initiative COVAX Facility.

    A huge number of health workers, who are among the priority recipients, had expressed willingness to get inoculated when it was first reported that vaccines from the US firm Pfizer Inc., also from the COVAX Facility, would be administered to them. Hospital surveys showed there was increased vaccine hesitancy when the Sinovac vaccines arrived.

    Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said the government must inoculate 250,000 individuals if the country is to meet its target of vaccinating 50 million to 70 million Filipinos by the end of 2021.

    “It’s a tall order, but it’s a goal,” he added.

    Vega echoed the statement made Wednesday by Vivencio Dizon, deputy implementer of the National Task Force against COVID-19, who gave a target of 250,000 to 300,000 individuals inoculated daily, and said this could be done in the third to fourth quarter of the year when the bulk of vaccine supplies arrives.

    The government is looking to secure at least 148 million vaccine doses.

    With vaccine supply still erratic, Duque and Vega said the public must be prepared to continue observing minimum public health standards.

    “The journey towards herd immunity is still far. Especially because the supply shortage has been a perennial problem for low- to middle-income countries like the Philippines,” said Duque.

    “Let us not put down our guards. Let us not have this sense of complacency since the vaccines are there. There should still be strict adherence to minimum health standards, enhance it if you want to,” said Vega.

    Indian Ambassador Shambbhu Kumaran said the Philippines and India-based firm Bharat Biotech are finalizing negotiations for the supply of eight million doses of Covaxin to the Philippines, deliverable in a year to 18 months.

    Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr is in India to ink a supply agreement for 30 million doses of vaccines from US drugmaker Novavax and Indian manufacturer Serum Institute of India (SII). He is set to meet with executives of Bharat Biotech to discuss a Covaxin supply. SII manufactures Novavax and AstraZeneca vaccines.

    Kumaran said Bharat’s representatives in the Philippines have been discussing with country officials a possible purchase of 8 million to 20 doses of vaccines, for delivery by April or May.

    Covaxin, which has reported an efficacy rate of 81 percent, has applied for emergency use authorization (EUA) in the Philippines but is still waiting for approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is developed by Bharat Biotech and government-run Indian Council of Medical Research.

    FDA chief Eric Domingo said the agency it is not yet considering Chinese state-owned drugmaker, Sinopharm, as among official applicants for EUA because it has not submitted any of the documentary requirements.

    “It’s supposed application was actually a letter of intent saying that they want to apply. But it has none of the requirements attached to it,” he said.

    Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine is the one preferred by President Duterte.

    Earlier, the FDA said Sinopharm has already filed an online application for an EUA.

    Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Sinovac have been issued EUAs. FDA is still evaluating applications from Bharat and Russia’s Gamaleya. – With Jocelyn Montemayor