No AstraZeneca delivery today
Health Secretary Francisco Duque said the Department of Health (DOH) received from the WHO the official communication on the delay in the arrival of 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines.
AFP/Paul Ellis

No AstraZeneca delivery today

Mayen Jaymalin (The Philippine Star) - March 1, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Due to lack of supply, the arrival of AstraZeneca vaccines coming from the COVAX Facility of the World Health Organization (WHO) will be delayed for a week, Health Secretary Francisco Duque reported yesterday.

Duque said the Department of Health (DOH) received from the WHO the official communication on the delay in the arrival of 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines.

He said the WHO initially confirmed the scheduled arrival today, but sent an official communication that it would be delayed for about a week.

“There is news that it will not push through. The WHO said they are having problems with the supply, so it will be delayed by a week,” Duque said in Filipino in a television interview.

However, he expressed hope on the rollout of the Sinovac vaccines.

“This is it. At long last it has arrived,” Duque said, shortly after the arrival of 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines.

Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccines arrived at Villamor Air Base yesterday at 4:08 p.m. on board a China Air Force transport plane.

He said the initial rollout will be good for 300,000 vaccinees, with healthcare workers (HCWs) as top priority.

Duque assured HCWs that Sinovac is safe and effective in protecting them from severe COVID-19.

The Philippines expects to receive around 5.5 million to 9.2 million doses of AstraZeneca this year through the COVAX facility, which ensures that developing countries get access to the coveted drug.

The doses from the COVAX facility are apart from the 17 million procured by the national government, local governments and the private sector, which are expected to arrive later this year.

AstraZeneca’s shot is found to be 70 percent effective on average and only needs to be stored at standard fridge temperatures of 2°C.

The Philippines is the last country in Southeast Asia to receive COVID-19 vaccines, despite having the second-worst outbreak in the region with 574,247 cases and 12,289 deaths as of Saturday.

Sinovac optional

Healthcare workers need not fall in line again and may opt to be vaccinated with AstraZeneca, according to Philippine General Hospital (PGH) spokesman Jonas del Rosario.

In a television interview Saturday night, Del Rosario said the DOH informed the PGH that frontliners will always be top of the priority list.

“It was mentioned in the town hall meeting that AstraZeneca would be arriving soon. So, it was asked in the open forum if ever they would not be vaccinated with Sinovac, could they receive AstraZeneca instead? The DOH says ‘yes’ because of our promise to always prioritize frontliners and care workers,” Del Rosario disclosed in Filipino.

As of Friday night, Del Rosario reported that only 12 percent of the PGH HCWs and other staff expressed willingness to be vaccinated with Sinovac.

He said during the town hall meeting held Saturday, DOH and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials and PGH employees had a good discussion on the vaccination program.

Del Rosario explained that the vaccination will be done on a voluntary basis and that Sinovac was offered to HCWs because they were the priority.

“It will be offered, but the staff, doctors, nurses and others in PGH have the right of refusal. If 12 percent allow themselves to be vaccinated, we will push through with the rollout of Sinovac to the 12 percent of our population who wish to receive that vaccination,” Del Rosario noted.

He said the remaining 88 percent will not lose their slots in the list and the next vaccine to arrive will be offered again to them.

“There really is a choice. Before, our problem was whether or not there would be a vaccine. Now, it’s which vaccine do you want to have?” he added.

Based on the tentative schedule, Del Rosario said there will be a ceremonial vaccination of Sinovac today at the PGH.

He said some Cabinet officials are likely among those to receive CoronaVac during the ceremonial vaccination.

Meanwhile, the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) expressed relief over the arrival of AstraZeneca.

In a radio interview, PCP president Dr. Mario Panaligan said HCWs now will have an option and not just be forced to take Sinovac.

‘We need to protect our citizens’

In her weekly program over dzXL, Vice President Leni Robredo said Sinovac must undergo an evaluation from the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) just like other COVID-19 vaccines arriving in the country.

“I myself don’t buy the argument that because it is donated it doesn’t need a positive recommendation from HTAC. Whether it is donated or not, we need to protect our citizens,” the Vice President said.

She said vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca have received positive recommendations from HTAC.

“I’m not saying that Sinovac is unsafe. What I’m saying is it has to go through the process to ensure that we are protected,” Robredo said.

In a statement on Saturday, HTAC said it is currently in the process of evaluating evidence on Sinovac’s CoronaVac, and is “awaiting more data.”

HTAC is an independent multidisciplinary body of experts tasked to assess the evidence of health technologies, including COVID-19 vaccines, for the Department of Health and PhilHealth funding.

Nina Castillo-Carandang, a member of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG), earlier said an assessment by the HTAC is not yet required as the first jabs are donations.

The FDA earlier granted emergency use authorization for CoronaVac, but it has not recommended it for medical workers exposed to COVID-19 patients because of a low efficacy rate of 50.4 percent for this group.

Robredo further called on government officials to improve the working conditions of Filipino health workers in the country instead of treating them as “commodities” in exchange for COVID-19 vaccines.

“I was saddened when I read about this, it seems like our health workers are commodities,” the Vice President said.

Robredo was reacting to the proposal of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to let more health workers take jobs in the UK and Germany if the two countries agreed to donate COVID-19 vaccines.

“I know we are desperate for the vaccine, but not at the expense of our health workers,” she said.

Rather than offering Filipino health workers to other nations, the government should ensure they will not leave the country by improving their working conditions, including their salaries, the Vice President said.

She said health workers are considered as heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Let’s make sure they feel our appreciation, that we take care of them, but we are wanting in that aspect,” Robredo said.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello had said the UK and Germany have requested to remove the 5,000 deployment limit that the Philippine government imposed on its healthcare workers in light of the pandemic.

International Labor Affairs Bureau director Alice Visperas had said Bello set two conditions, one of which is for their governments to send coronavirus vaccines to the Philippines.

DOLE public information head Rolly Francia earlier clarified the department wants to make sure that the nurses who will be deployed have already been vaccinated, and the vaccine should come from the host country.

In April last year, the Duterte government barred nurses, doctors and other medical workers from leaving the country to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ban was lifted in November, but the government approved a 5,000-cap on the deployment of healthcare workers annually.

A British health ministry official earlier said the country had no plans to agree to such a deal, as the UK planned to donate surplus vaccine doses to other countries in the future.

British Ambassador Daniel Pruce also said the UK had no plans to link access to vaccines and Filipino healthcare professionals working there. – Helen Flores, Rudy Santos

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