THE preference of some health workers for brands of COVID-19 vaccines other than what are now available is slowing down the national vaccination program, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said yesterday.
He noted healthcare workers, who are the priority vaccine recipients, are being allowed to choose the vaccines to be used on them.
Despite this, he said, government is confident of reaching its target of inoculating 1.7 million health workers this month as more vaccines are expected to come in.
The national immunization drive kicked off Monday last week, and it has so far inoculated 4,128 individuals, Roque said. Almost a million doses of vaccines, which are to be given in two doses per person, have arrived since last week.
Many health workers, based on internal surveys of some hospitals, preferred Western-made vaccines.
“So kampante po tayo na dumating lang ang mga bakuna ay makakamit natin ang target.
Bakit po? Well, kaya lang naman po tayo mabagal ngayon kasi binigyan nga natin ng pagkakataon na tumanggi ang mga health workers (We are confident that once the vaccines arrive, we will reach our target. Why? The only reason that it is slow is because we allowed the health workers choose vaccines),” he said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) last week said priority should be given to health workers to maintain the capacity of the healthcare system.
The first vaccine that arrived in the county was a shipment of 600,000 doses of CoronaVac from Chinese firm Sinovac, which was donated by the Chinese government. China is donating an additional 400,000 doses but no date has been set for the delivery. The country also expects the first one million doses of CoronaVac, from the 25 million being purchased by the government from Sinovac, to arrive this month.
AstraZeneca delivered last Thursday and Sunday 525,600 doses of vaccine under the COVAX Facility which provides poor and developing nations access to anti-COViD-19 vaccines.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the indicative commitment of the COVAX Facility to the Philippines is for 4.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines which will be delivered in batches until July.
Vaccines from Pfizer had been expected to arrive first in the country, and surveys showed health workers were willing to be inoculated. However, the number declined when the Sinovac vaccines came in.
Some health workers are also cannot be vaccinated because of age limitations. Sinovac is recommended for healthy individuals aged 18 to 59 years.
The government has started the delivery of the AstraZeneca in hospitals in Metro Manila and the nearby provinces while Sinovac have been delivered to parts of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
Roque said if health workers would continue to wait for their preferred brand, the Sinovac vaccines could be given to the other sectors in the vaccination priority list, such as the economic frontliners.
“Iyong Sinovac kung hindi tatanggapin ng medical frontliners, magkakaroon tayo ng sobra.
And since we cannot give it to the senior citizens, then we can give it to the economic frontliners (If the medical frontliners will not accept Sinovac, we will have an excess vaccine and since we cannot give it to the senior citizens, then we can give it to the economic frontliners),” he said.
Nograles said the AstraZeneca vaccines will be delivered to different regions within the week.
He also said the government is determined to administer the vaccine only to medical frontliners, in compliance with the WHO directive to prioritize the health workers.
Roque said the country can expect more vaccines as vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr will lead a panel of vaccine experts to India on Tuesday to meet with executives of the Serum Institute of India to secure 30 million doses of Novavax for delivery in May.
Galvez said a separate bilateral agreement for 13 million doses of vaccines from American pharmaceutical firm Moderna and tripartite agreement for 7 million doses are being finalized. The delivery of Moderna vaccines is expected in the third quarter of the year.