Vaccination sites given deadline

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    VACCINATION sites nationwide have until tomorrow to administer their AstraZeneca vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) or these will be pulled out by the Department of Health and given to healthcare workers in high-risk areas.

    In a briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire yesterday said the March 24 deadline was set by Secretary Francisco Duque III to ensure a more efficient use of the AstraZeneca vaccines donated through the COVAX Facility, a global vaccine-sharing initiative which aims to deliver 2 billion vaccine doses around the world by the end of this year.

    The vaccines, which are administered in two doses per person, are expiring in May.

    “These vaccines given to us shouldn’t be stored for a long time. They should be used as intended, which is to protect our healthcare workers,” Vergeire said. “So they have to do this expeditiously, especially now that the cases are rising.”

    As of March 20, about 336,700 healthcare workers have been given COVID-19 jabs nationwide. There are some 1.7 million health workers, the priority sector in the national vaccination drive. The current vaccine supply is about 1.1 million doses, including those made by the Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech and donated by China.

    Vergeire, asked what will happen to healthcare workers in regions where the AstraZeneca doses will be pulled out, said additional doses are coming.

    She said the DOH has received guarantees from the World Health Organization (WHO), which is co-leading the COVAX Facility.

    “We have talked to WHO and they gave us assurances that the second batch of AstraZeneca vaccines from COVAX will arrive by the end of March or in early April,” she said.

    WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe said the DOH move is necessary considering the surge in cases in Metro Manila and adjacent regions.

    “Now that we are seeing a surge of cases in the National Capital Region and adjoining regions, it becomes even more important that we protect the healthcare workers by the use of vaccines,” said Abeyasinghe.

    “So, we are trying to maximize the benefits of the vaccines. We have been vaccinating the frontline health workers as quickly as possible, targeting specifically those areas where we are seeing an increase of transmission,” he added.

    On the second batch of AstraZeneca vaccines, Abeyasinghe said, “We believe that new stocks of AstraZeneca vaccine will arrive before the 12 weeks… The 12 weeks from the arrival of vaccines on the fourth of March will be in June,” he said.

    “We believe that the country will receive the new stock of AstraZeneca before that, so we can ensure that all those healthcare workers who received the first doses will be able to get their second dose,” he added.

    Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian yesterday said the second batch of Sinovac vaccines, CoronaVac, donated by his government will arrive later this week.

    The first batch of 400,000 doses arrived on February 28.

    “No one is safe until everyone is safe. In the face of the spread of new COVID-19 variants across the globe, and the resurgence of cases in the Philippines, we need to race against time in our effort to speed up the mass inoculation process,” the envoy said.

    The Chinese donation enabled government to begin its vaccination program on March 1.

    A questioned provision in a draft administrative order covering the purchase of vaccines by private companies has been removed, according to presidential spokesman Harry Roque.

    The provision bans private companies which are considered “in conflict with public health,” including those selling tobacco, liquor and infant milk formula, from procuring COVID-19 vaccines for their employees.

    “Natanggal na po iyon (It has been removed). All companies can buy vaccines for their employees now,” Roque said.

    However, all private companies will be allowed to buy the vaccines only under a tripartite agreement with the national government and the vaccine manufacturer, he said, adding all COVID-19 vaccines are covered by emergency use authorization issued by government.

    Several lawmakers have raised concerns over the supposed plan of the Health Department and the National Task Force against COVID-19 to prevent certain private companies from buying vaccines for their employees. – With Ashzel Hachero and Jocelyn Montemayor