BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and GERARD NAVAL
THE national vaccination drive is “on track” despite a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said yesterday following criticism the program is moving slowly while the number of infections is soaring.
Galvez, chief implementer of the National Task Force against the Coronavirus Disease (NTF COVID-19), said 90 percent of the 1.1 million doses of vaccines received by the country have been deployed nationwide but recipients are limited to healthcare workers who are part of priority groups.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III issued a similar statement.
“As of the latest count, we have already deployed almost 90 percent of our available doses.
These vaccines have reached Batanes to Tawi-Tawi, from the northernmost to the southernmost island provinces,” said Duque.
“This is a testament that our distribution channels are ready should the vaccines arrive,” he added.
The national immunization program started on March 1, using 600,000 doses of the CoronaVac vaccines manufactured by Sinovac Biotech, private Chinese firm, donated by China, and about 500,000 doses of vaccines made by British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca PLC, sent to the Philippines by the COVAX Facility, a global vaccine-sharing initiative.
As of Thursday last week, at least 114,000 individuals have been vaccinated, according to Duque.
Over the weekend, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the current pacing of the vaccination drive indicates the target to inoculate 60-70 percent of the total population may likely be reached by 2033.
Duque said once there is a steady supply of vaccines, the distribution and inoculation of the public will be faster.
“The current pace of the COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers is expected to rise exponentially once bulk of the government-procured doses, as well as those from the COVAX Facility arrive by mid-second quarter of this year,” he added.
Galvez said, “As much as we would like to conduct a full-scale vaccination program, we are constrained by the current limited supply of vaccines in the world market. And this is the same problem being faced by most nations around the world. The current production capacity of vaccine manufacturers simply has not been able to keep up with global demand,” he said.
Galvez reiterated that most of the anti-COVID vaccines have been pre-ordered by rich countries. However, he said, the Philippines has secured several millions of doses, bulk of which will start arriving in the second quarter of the year. The government previously said the bulk of deliveries are due in the third and fourth quarter of the year.
“The government would be able to significantly scale up the implementation of our vaccine program and enable the country to achieve herd immunity,” he said.
Galvez said the vaccines received by the Philippines have been even to far-flung areas such as Batanes in northern Luzon and Tawi-Tawi in southern Mindanao.
“With these positive developments, the Duterte administration is confident that it is on track in implementing its immunization program and optimistic that it would be able to achieve its target of inoculating about 70 percent of the country’s population within this year,” he added.
He reiterated that medical frontliners and health care workers are prioritized in the vaccination program, ahead of the general public, because of their crucial task of taking care of the sick, including COVID patients.
“When all our medical frontliners and health care workers are inoculated and our country already has sufficient vaccine supplies, we shall significantly pick up the pace of our vaccination program,” he said.
Galvez said apart from his negotiations in India, where he finalized talks for the purchase and delivery of some 30 million doses from Novavax, to be sourced from the Serum Institute of India (SII), he also discussed with SII a possible delivery of other vaccines supplies. SII manufactures Novavax and AstraZeneca vaccines.
He said a team will visit Russia this week to discuss Sputnik V vaccines.
Based on government’s vaccination program, at least 15 million doses are expected from Gamaleya and 30 million from Novavax, which are expected in the second quarter.
At least 20 million doses from Moderna, 17 million from AstraZeneca, 5 million from Johnson and Johnson, and 25 million from Pfizer are expected to be delivered starting the third quarter of the year towards the end of the year.
Galvez denied reports that the government has borrowed over P10 trillion to support its vaccination program.
He said that based on the explanation of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, “the government is working on an overall budget of P82.5 billion for the national vaccination program, of which P62 billion in financing is sourced from our development partners and the rest is financed internally.”
He said this means that at least P20 billion would come from the budget and Bayanihan fund of government while the P62 billion is borrowed from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Galvez said copies of the loan and grant agreements signed by the Department of Finance are uploaded in the agency’s website and can be viewed by anyone who wishes to check their veracity.