Galvez: 979,200 more AstraZeneca doses under COVAX arriving by early April

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Nearly a million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 jabs from the COVAX facility are expected to arrive in the country this month or by early April, as government plans to roll out more of the initial batch that arrived earlier in March.

Some 525,600 doses from the World Health Organization-led initiative landed in the country days into its inoculation efforts. 

It was a welcome development for health workers who sought for alternatives other than Sinovac being the first in the priority list to receive the jabs.

During the coronavirus task force's weekly meeting aired Monday night, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said 979,200 more doses of AstraZeneca will arrive between March 22 and the first week of April.

He said too that 400,000 more doses of Sinovac — part of a donation from China — as well as the one million that government ordered, will arrive in the same month.

"Based on the target and timelines, this coming March we will be receiving 2.3 million doses," Galvez told President Rodrigo Duterte.

DOH eyes splitting initial AstraZeneca shipment to vaccinate more people

Earlier Monday, the health department said over 193,000 individuals had received their first dose, two weeks since the inoculations began.

In the same meeting, Duterte pressed officials on whether the vaccine supply in the country right now would be enough to cover second doses.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III replied that second doses for those who received Sinovac have already been set aside for inoculation. 

He recommended, however, that doses from the initial AstraZeneca shipment meant as a second dose for those already vaccinated be used instead to give more people first doses of the vaccine. He said that the second AstraZeneca vaccine dose can be administered within 12 weeks of the first dose and that new stocks of the vaccine would be available by then.

"It would be good to use up the 525,600 doses as first dose so we can cover more people," Duque said, partly in Filipino. "That will also resolve our problem with AstraZeneca's short shelf life," he said, saying the doses expire within three months.

Galvez backed Duque's recommendation, saying he was told by the WHO that the arrival of the second batch of vaccines from COVAX could be delayed if the initial doses are not used up.

The 193,000 vaccinated so far is a small number against the administration's goal of inoculating 50 million to 70 million Filipinos this year in a bid to achieve herd immunity.

Quick recap: While many have welcomed the arrival of more vaccines, it is crucial to note that only one purchase deal has been signed so far, and that's with Sinovac for one million doses.

Although supply agreements have been signed, these have yet to be finalized.

The jabs that arrived from the COVAX facility, as well as 400,000 more doses expected from Sinovac are donations as well.

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