INSTEAD of storing half of the 525,600 doses of vaccines from AstraZeneca that have been received from the World Health Organization (WHO)-led COVAX Facility, to be used as second jabs for health frontliners who have been inoculated, the government wants to use them as first doses for more medical workers.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez yesterday said this will enable the country to inoculate more health workers, adding the second jabs will come from more than 900,000 doses of the vaccine that the country expects to arrive this March and April.
Galvez said the country has been assured by the COVAX Facility that the second tranche of AstraZeneca vaccines are due to arrive either late this month or early April.
Under its agreement with the COVAX Facility, the country can only use the donated vaccines for medical frontliners.
Latest figures from the government showed that 216,794 healthcare workers, of the estimated 1.7 million to 1.8 million medical workers nationwide targeted to be vaccinated by May, have so far been vaccinated as of March 16.
Galvez said almost all of the more than 1.1 million doses of donated Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines have been distributed nationwide but this would only cover some 550,000 healthcare workers since a person needs two doses.
China donated 600,000 doses of CoronaVac from Sinovac, while COVAX sent 487,200 doses of AstraZeneca last March 1 and 38,400 more doses on March 7.
The second doses are being kept in storage. The second dose of Sinovac is to be given 28 days after the first dose while the second dose of AstraZeneca needs to be administered 12 weeks or about three months after the first dose.
“We are asking for guidance to use AstraZeneca as first dose, all of the 525,000 to expand our vaccination coverage. For now, we are doing a position paper seeking approval to use the 525,000 doses of AstraZeneca as first dose since the second tranche of AstraZeneca is on its way,” Galvez said.
Galvez, on Monday night, reported to President Duterte and the Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, that the second tranche of 979,200 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine under the COVAX Facility is expected to arrive on March 22 or in early April.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said AstraZeneca, under COVAX, has committed 4.5 million doses to the country.
Galvez and Health Secretary Francisco Duque recommended the use of the second doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to reach more healthcare workers and avoid possible wastage due to the vaccines’ short shelf life of three months.
Duterte, however, expressed concerns the second dosage or booster shot of the healthcare workers might be delayed if they use the current vaccines to inoculate more people.
Duque assured the President that the second dosage of healthcare workers will not be delayed.
He said the second dose of Sinovac vaccines are already in storage and ready for use later in March while the AstraZeneca vaccines are also all in storage and would be kept there for about three months until it’s time to use them.
Galvez said WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe warned the government that there might be a delay in the release of the AstraZeneca vaccine doses unless all delivered vaccines, under the first tranche, have been distributed.
Duque said Abeyasinghe promised to write a letter to ensure the second batch of vaccine under COVAX will arrive on time and “from there, we will use the second dose.”
Galvez said the country stands to receive this month some 2.3 million doses of vaccines that he said would be enough to cover the remaining healthcare workers who have yet to be inoculated.
He said the 2.3 million include 400,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines that is part of the one million doses donated by the Chinese government expected to arrive around March 24 and one million doses bought by the Philippines from Sinovac due on March 28.
Galvez added the Philippines is also expected to receive at least 30 million doses of vaccines from US biotech firm Novavax in the third or fourth quarters of the year. He said he inked a supply agreement with the Serum Institute of India (SII) during his visit to India over the weekend.
SII, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, manufactures Novavax and AstraZeneca.
Galvez said the 30 million doses can be increased by another 10 million if ongoing negotiations are successful.
“We are just waiting for the emergency use authorization to be approved in the UK, the US, and in our country,” he said.
Galvez said his team is also waiting for the issuance of an EUA for the Chinese drug Sinopharm before they start negotiation for possible vaccine supplies to the country.
Duterte has said he prefers to be inoculated with Sinopharm.
The government intends to inoculate 50 million to 70 million Filipinos within the year.
Presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion, in a radio interview, said they would be using the vaccination sites of some hospitals when to inoculate the employees of private firms that bought the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The private sector and local governments have ordered 17 million doses of AstraZeneca, with 2.6 million expected to arrive in May and the rest in the third quarter.
The Department of Health yesterday said the seven-day moving average of daily vaccinated individuals is at 23,466, adding that 96 percent of the COVID-19 vaccines that have arrived in the country have been deployed to 929 vaccination sites.
Having the highest vaccination rate is Northern Mindanao with 90 percent (17,780 out of 19,700); followed by Metro Manila with 68 percent (95,892 out of 139,435); and Cagayan Valley with 61 percent (9,816 out of 15,990).
Allocated with the most doses is the National Capital Region with 278,870 shots, followed by Central Visayas with 110,760, Calabarzon with 91,200, and Central Luzon with 82,900. – With Gerard Naval