ABOUT a week since government started the national vaccination program against COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday said it has observed a growing number of Filipinos willing to be inoculated.
Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative to the Philippines, said this also happens in other countries which have started their immunization drive.
“What we have seen in other countries, as vaccines are introduced, the uptake among the population has been increasing. The Philippines is no different,” he said in a virtual briefing.
“Initial apprehension among the population on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines is now clearly declining. Vaccine hesitancy is decreasing and more people want access to the vaccine,” he added.
Data from the Department of Health shows that as of Sunday, 35,669 healthcare workers in 169 vaccination sites in different regions have been vaccinated against COVID-19, with the deployment of 463,540 doses of CoronaVac vaccines from the Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech, and from the British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca.
The Chinese vaccines were donated by China while the AstraZeneca vaccines came from the COVAX Facility, a global initiative to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, co-led by the WHO.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., also chief implementer of the National Task Force against COVID-19 (NTF), said public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, including Sinovac, has steadily been increasing with more hospitals now asking for additional vaccines.
“So, ‘nung una siguro, at the start, we’re seeing some hesitancy. But now mataas na (At the start, we’re seeing some hesitancy. But now the acceptance is high),” he said.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), said there is an “uptick of Filipinos who are now confident enough to take the vaccines,” after more hospital officials and health workers were inoculated.
Nograles reassured the health workers that they would be the priority in the inoculation, especially for AstraZeneca vaccines from COVAX. He said failure to comply with the WHO-COVAX guidelines might affect future vaccine deliveries under COVAX.
Abeyasinghe said it is important that healthcare workers are continuously prioritized in the vaccination program.
“There were reports of people not in the priority list accessing vaccines. It is important that we send a message clearly that we shouldn’t encourage that approach,” he said.
After healthcare workers, Abeyasinghe said the next most vulnerable sector must already be inoculated.
“We will move to the over 60 years old and those with comorbidities because they are clearly at risk,” he said.
Abeyasinghe also said the much-anticipated vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, also to be given under COVAX, are expected to arrive “either in late March or in April” as the Philippines has complied with all the requirements of the pharmaceutical firm.
Pfizer-BioNTech is expected to deliver 117,000 doses.
In the next two months, Abeyasinghe said, some 4.5 million vaccines doses are expected to be shipped by COVAX.
“COVAX has committed to provide vaccines to protect 20 percent of the Filipino population,” he said.
Meanwhile, Abeyasinghe said the WHO is still assessing the need for a COVID-19 vaccine passport for those who have been inoculated.
“If WHO were to agree to have a vaccine passport, this will need to be agreed through the International Health Regulations mechanism. That’s what we are now looking at,” he said.
“It is necessary for people to have some sort of evidence that they were vaccinated,” he added.
Nevertheless, he said, individual countries can introduce their own vaccine passports.
A vaccination passport is a document showing one has been inoculated against COVID-19.
The Philippines is set to sign today a supply agreement with the US drugmaker Novavax Inc. for 30 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
Galvez led a team to India to finalize the procurement of the vaccines developed by Novavax and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII).
Galvez, who will be in India until March 12, reported to President Duterte on Monday night that the Novavax vaccine would form part of the 20 million doses of vaccines expected to arrive in the country in the second quarter of the year.
He said the other vaccines would come from Sinovac and AstraZeneca.
The government intends to complete the first-dose vaccination of some 1.7 million to 1.8 million health workers this month, and the second dose between April and May. The second dose of the Sinovac vaccine should be administered after four weeks and that of the AstraZeneca vaccine, between four and 12 weeks.
The Interim National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), in a resolution on the administration and allocation of AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX Facility, said the “WHO instructed that the AstraZeneca (ChAdOx1-S [recombinant]) vaccines under COVAX agreements be allocated using the prioritization framework prioritizing the vaccination of healthcare workers. Any violations of the GAVI stipulations may affect future COVAX deliveries to the country.”
This means that AstraZeneca vaccines shall be provided only to Priority A1 healthcare workers — frontline workers in health facilities, both national and local, private and public, and health professionals and non-professionals like students, nursing aides, janitors, barangay health workers, among others.
NITAG, in its March 4 resolution, said the succession of vaccine recipients shall be: “1. All healthcare workers in all Level 3 hospitals (including COVID referral hospitals) nationwide; 2. Other dedicated COVID-19 referral government hospitals in areas with no Level 3 hospitals; 3. Senior citizen healthcare workers in other hospitals nationwide not otherwise included above; 4. Remaining Priority A1 eligible recipients in NCR, prioritizing senior healthcare workers as is consistent with the prioritization framework.”
MANILA VAXX DRIVE
Manila yesterday started vaccinating healthcare workers who are senior citizens using the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Manila received the first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccines (1,000 doses) on Monday and another 3,000 doses of CoronaVac. This is aside from the 3,000 CoronaVac doses turned over to the Sta. Hospital on March 2.
The rollout was held at the Ospital ng Maynila, attended by city officials led by Mayor Isko Moreno and Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna-Pangan.
“This is now putting into action, real action, what our simulation exercises has done,” Moreno said.
Ospital ng Maynila director Karl Lagui said 266 healthcare workers aged 60 years and older were vaccinated.
As of yesterday, 2,396 out of the more than 5, 000 health workers in Manila have been inoculated.
As of March 8, Manila reported 202 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the active cases in the city to 908.
Since the start of the pandemic, Manila has reported 29,288 COVID-19 infections, with 27,565 recoveries.
Two new fatalities were also reported Monday, bringing the death toll to 815. — With Jocelyn Montemayor and Ashzel Hachero