Palace says AstraZeneca jabs arriving March 4; vaccine czar not so sure

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Palace says AstraZeneca jabs arriving March 4; vaccine czar not so sure
This photo shows the COVID-19 vaccine candidate by the British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca, whose doses will finally arrive in the Philippines on March 4
AFP / Justin Tallis

MANILA, Philippines — Initial doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccines will finally arrive on Thursday, March 4, a few days after the missed arrival date that the administration announced over the weekend.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said 487,200 doses of AstraZeneca under the COVAX facility will reach the country on Thursday night.

The new arrival date comes after several delays, with the Palace previously saying vaccine rollout would be by February 15.

The number of doses the Palace announced is lower than the 525,600 that the Palace earlier gave.

Carlito Galvez Jr., the country's vaccine czar, however, was hesitant to confirm the delivery. 

"It is better to say it is confirmed when the plane takes off from Belgium," ABS-CBN News quotes him as saying in Filipino.

The AstraZeneca doses are part of the Philippines' share in the COVAX facility, a global initiative for securing equitable access to the jabs.

This is a separate vaccine procurement from direct purchase with the British-Swedish manufacturer, which has yet to be made final along with other procurement deals. Essentially, this means that the P72.5 billion that Congress approved for vaccine purchase has yet to be spent.

Officials this week sought to explain that the delay in the jabs' arrival was due to supply shortages and logistical concerns.

Dr. Rabindra Abeyashinge, the World Health Organization's representative to the country, told CNN Philippines that bottlenecks are hampering the delivery. 

This includes drugmakers "unable to meet manufacturing targets, because these are biological processes, and they couldn't proce the quantities that they anticipated they could early on."

"These vaccines need to be transported," he said, "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."

Apart from the AstraZeneca, some 117,000 doses of Pfizer was also allocated to the country under the COVAX. But vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. bluntly said the country should not expect anytime soon its arrival as the jabs are in high demand in many countries.

The arrival of another brand of a COVID-19 vaccine is now more than ever crucial with inoculations already underway with the Chinese-made Sinovac.

Significantly, health workers were the first to receive this, despite the Food and Drug Administration earlier advising against administering it to them, after clinical trials in Brazil showed a lower efficacy rate among those dealing with COVID-19 patients.

On March 1, the group Alliance of Health Workers in a protest called on government to give medical personnel "better options for vaccine that have the highest efficacy rate."

"Many from our ranks have been infected and some died in combating the deadly virus," said Eleazar Sobinsky, president of the employees' association at the Lung Center of the Philippines. "Our health and lives are always at stake. It is just right and human that we demand the free, safest and most efficacious vaccine."

The health department has yet to respond to queries on why the initial doses were reduced to over 487,000 from the original 525,600.



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