Nearly 200K healthcare workers inoculated: DOH

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    CLOSE to 200,000 healthcare workers have been inoculated two weeks after the government rolled out its vaccination program against the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), according to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

    In an online forum, Duque said 193,492 healthcare workers have been administered with the vaccines as of March 13, which “comprises 34 percent of the 1.125 million doses that have arrived.”

    He said that in the National Capital Region (NCR), only 30 percent of healthcare workers have yet to be vaccinated.

    “The NCR has performed quite well. They are now 70 percent for the first dose inoculation,” Duque.

    The Philippines has received a total donation of 1,125,600 Sinovac and AstraZeneca shots from the Chinese government and the COVAX Facility, respectively.

    The San Juan government said almost 1,900 healthcare workers from the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in the city have been inoculated as of March 12.

    Over the weekend, the DOH said 90 percent of the donated COVID-19 vaccines have been deployed to different vaccination sites in the country.

    “While herd immunity is the goal of every country, including ours, our short term goal with the limited vaccine supply is to reduce mortality and protect those who are at most risk,” said Duque.

    The private sector, meanwhile, will negotiate for 8 million to 20 million doses of India’s Covaxin, according to Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion.

    In a statement, Concepcion said he met with officials of Ambica International Corp. and IP Biotech, the distributors of the Covaxin, who agreed to bring in Covaxin which is manufactured by Bharat Biotech, an Indian biotechnology company.

    He said Covaxin posted an 81 percent efficacy from the interim results of its phase 3 trial and is awaiting approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    Concepcion expressed hope the first batch would be delivered in the second quarter, around May, and priced at the best possible minimum.

    Former Health Secretary and now Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin has proposed that administering as many first doses of the COVID-19 vaccines as possible should be prioritized to arrest the renewed surge of coronavirus infections.

    The proposal, if accepted by the DOH, would be a radical departure from the original plan to use only half of the 600,000 doses of Sinovac and 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca that have arrived in the country from foreign donors.

    Infectious disease expert Edsel Salvaña, director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology of University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health earlier said the government intends to ensure the first-shot recipients will get a second dose 28 days after the first jab.

    Garin, however, said the utilization plan for vaccines may require a second look in light of the confirmation that more infectious variants of the virus have entered the country.

    The former DOH chief said enhancing immunization coverage to as big a portion of the population as possible is of paramount importance.

    “The incoming vaccines can cover the second dose. Each day of protection is a big step towards being ahead of the virus,” she said.

    She also appealed to the DOH to include the families of millions of overseas Filipino workers and seafarers in the priority list for vaccination.

    “We are seeing them as susceptibles and a factor in curtailing the spread of COVID-19,” Garin stressed.

    The DOH over the weekend confirmed that coronavirus P.1 variant first discovered in Brazil has been detected on a Filipino patient.

    The variant, which is believed to be more transmissible, was found on an overseas Filipino worker, a native of Western Visayas, who only recently returned from Brazil.

    Garin also called for a ramping up of mass testing as well as the immediate isolation of individuals who will be tested positive of the Brazil variant and the quarantining direct contacts while awaiting test results. – With Peter Tabingo and Christian Oineza