WHO: Prioritize health workers in use of COVAX-sourced vaccines

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    THE World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday advised the Philippine government to prioritize healthcare workers in the use of nearly six million doses of vaccines for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from the COVAX Facility.

    “We have requested member states, who are applying to COVAX, to prioritize the healthcare workers,” Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO representative to the Philippines, in a virtual press briefing.

    The WHO-led COVAX Facility is a global initiative that brings together governments and manufacturers to ensure vaccines reach those in greatest need. At least 60 higher income economies have joined the Facility.

    The Philippines will get about 40 million doses from COVAX and pay for 25 percent of the allocation.

    Abeyasinghe said the health care workers, “who continue to risk their lives on a daily basis to care for COVID-19 infected,” must be prioritized for vaccination so they could “continue providing their services to the people.”

    The second priority are “those with comorbidities and the elderly” because the two sectors are considered to be most at risk to the virus.

    Earlier, the Facility said it will provide 117,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and 5.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which are expected to be delivered in the middle of this month.

    The Department of Health said it is finalizing for the rollout of the vaccines from the COVAX Facility.

    “We are already prepared for this initial deployment plan, where we are going to utilize our facilities and our private partners, who we will be able to manage these kinds of vaccines,” said Vergeire.

    Pfizer-BioNTech has been granted emergency use listing (EUL) for its COVID-19 vaccine by the WHO.

    Abeyasinghe said the WHO is reviewing AstraZeneca documents and the vaccine maker may be granted an EUL “probably in the early part of February.” Vaccines from the COVAX Facility must be issued an EUL by the WHO.

    The government expects the first batch of vaccines to arrive in the country middle or late this month, including the 117,000 doses from Pfizer-BioNTech under the COVAX facility and some 500,000 purchased from Sinovac, a private Chinese firm.

    Some 5.5 million to 9.29 million doses of vaccine from AstraZeneca, also under COVAX, are expected first to second quarter of this year, starting this month.

    Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado assured local government units (LGUs) they will be given vaccines by the national government, regardless if they are a rich or poor.

    Avisado acknowledged that some LGUs have started to purchase vaccines for their constituents through a tripartite agreement with the national government and the pharmaceutical firm.

    He said coordination between the national and local government is important to ensure that the vaccines that enter the country are regulated “not only to guarantee its safety and efficacy but also to make sure that they are equitably distributed among the general population.”

    On the appeal of some LGUs to allow them to use their calamity funds for vaccine procurement, Avisado said a re-alignment would require a specific directive from the Office of the President but such requests, if made, will be considered.

    Acting Planning Secretary Karl Chua said he the vaccination rollout could improve confidence in the healthcare system and eventually help boost confidence in the economy.

    He said people will no longer be “afraid” to go out because they know the healthcare system will be there to protect them when needed. “So the confidence ill increase. When confidence increases, that’s where you see the economy coming back,” he said. – With Jocelyn Montemayor