Missed March 1 arrival of AstraZeneca jabs was tentative date, WHO says, citing bottlenecks
A file photo taken on February 6, 2021 shows a box containing vials of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Foch hospital in Suresnes, on the start of a vaccination campaign for health workers with the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.
AFP/Alain Jocard

Missed March 1 arrival of AstraZeneca jabs was tentative date, WHO says, citing bottlenecks

(Philstar.com) - March 2, 2021 - 4:01pm

MANILA, Philippines — Supply and logistical challenges are delaying the delivery to the Philippines of half a million AstraZeneca doses obtained through the COVAX facility, an official from the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

An initial 525,600 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was supposed to arrive in the Philippines Monday but the delivery was postponed due to a “global supply problem,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced on Sunday.

Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO country representative, said in an interview with CNN Philippines that the March 1 schedule for the arrival of AstraZenec vaccine doses announced by government officials "had [only] been identified as a tentative date." 

Abeyasinghe also said the requirements needed to receive AstraZeneca jabs from the global facility have been completed. But he stressed there are bottlenecks hampering the delivery of the doses like manufacturers being "unable to meet manufacturing targets, because these are biological processes, and they couldn't produce the quantities that they anticipated they could early on."

Logistics already being arranged

He also identified logistical challenges as another reason for the delay of the shipment.

“We’re now anticipating a second bottleneck and that is delivery processes. These vaccines need to be transported, maintaining cold chain requirements and logistic handlers are having challenges in ensuring large shipments of vaccines across the world… Now this is causing a challenge,” Abeyasinghe said.

“My understanding is that the consignments are ready and just the logistics arrangements are being made. So once we have a finalization and a confirmed itinerary for delivery, we will share that information,” he added.

Asked if the delayed delivery was due to logistical concerns and not a supply problem, Abeyasinghe responded: “Right now, that’s what we’re made to understand.”

Vaccine deliveries to the Philippines are being coordinated by the UNICEF, the WHO official also said.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said Monday that there is no definite date yet for the arrival of the AstraZeneca shots but he is hoping the shipment will come before the first quarter ends.

Delayed Pfizer shipment

Abeyasinghe said the country’s “access to Pfizer vaccines may be delayed” but he expressed hope that the jabs will come “before the end of the month.”

Officials have been saying the supplies of Pfizer shots are in high demand in many countries, with Galvez saying the country should not expect delivery anytime soon.

Some 117,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine were expected to arrive by mid-February but the delivery got delayed. Officials attribute the delay due to the absence of an indemnification program.

The Philippines finally kicked off its inoculation drive against COVID-19 Monday, with medical workers, government officials and uniformed personnel among the first in line to receive shots of CoronaVac, the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech.

But the vaccination campaign faces not only supply problem but also public reluctance to get the critical shots. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

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