Duque: AstraZeneca readied for health workers who declined CoronaVac
Five days into the government’s inoculation drive against Covid-19, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III assured health workers who had declined the China-made vaccine CoronaVac that they “won’t lose their prioritization” and they could get a share from the initial batch of AstraZeneca jabs that arrived in the country on Thursday night.
The Department of Health (DOH) has yet to announce detailed plans for the distribution of the 487,200 AstraZeneca doses making up the first delivery to the Philippines from COVAX, the global vaccine pool led by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Perhaps we can begin using the AstraZeneca vaccine tomorrow,” Duque said at a press briefing on Friday at Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City.
“If you recall, there were health-care workers who said they will just wait for the AstraZeneca vaccine. So they won’t lose their prioritization.’’
For those who declined CoronaVac, which is manufactured by Sinovac Biotech Ltd., “we are readying the AstraZeneca vaccine for them,” he added.
Since the vaccine rollout began on Monday, the government has delivered or reserved for a second dose more than half of the 600,000 doses of CoronaVac that arrived in the country on Sunday.
Of the total, only 13,629 doses have been administered on health workers as of Friday, according to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chief Rolando Enrique Domingo.
A total of 500,000 CoronaVac doses has been allocated for the Department of Health (DOH) while the remaining 100,000 are for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Department of National Defense (DND).
Out of the DOH allocation, only 183,400 doses remain to be allocated, Duque said. The rest—316,600—have been delivered or reserved for a second dose.
Of the CoronaVac doses for the AFP and DND, 13,600 remain to be allocated.
This leaves a total of 197,000 CoronaVac doses that have yet to be allocated as of Friday, or 33 percent of the 600,000 brought to the country.
Domingo said the FDA had “received reports of 122 minor side effects and three cases of serious allergies’’ from the health workers who had been inoculated. “But all vaccines are OK,” he said.
Suitable for a senior
According to Duque, he would be inoculated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which he said is suitable for senior citizens like him.
The 64-year-old health chief said “the good thing about AstraZeneca is, it can be used for those 60 years old and above. So my answer to the question is, I will have myself vaccinated with the
AstraZeneca vaccine, as a doctor who conducts vaccination, faces patients and inspects health-care facilities, hospitals, temporary treatment and monitoring facilities.”
Moderna, Janssen, Novavax
Also on Friday, Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez said the country could expect the arrival of Covid-19 vaccines from ModernaTX Inc. by the second half of the year.
Speaking at the government’s Laging Handa briefing, Romualdez said he was involved in discussions between the US biotechnology company and Philippine businessmen on the acquisition of as many as 20 million doses of Moderna vaccines for the country.
“We’ve already concluded the agreement. We’re threshing out the supply, when the Moderna [doses] could be delivered,” the diplomat said. “Definitely within the second half of this year, we will be expecting these vaccines coming from the United States arriving,” he added.
Romualdez also disclosed that Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, had set aside six million doses of its vaccine for the Philippines but that no delivery date had yet been set since the company was still prioritizing supplies for the United States.
“I suppose it’s understandable because it’s manufactured [in the United States] and they need to vaccinate at least 70 percent of Americans here in the United States,” he said.
The Philippines is also in talks to acquire Novavax vaccines, which are developed by an American company of the same name but are manufactured in India.
The country plans to procure 30 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, he added.
“It takes time but we are not far behind as people think,” Romualdez said. “Truth be told, we’re actually better off than many countries because technically we’re only [in] the first week of March [and] we already started our vaccination program.”
The US Embassy in Manila and the WHO welcomed the arrival of the first AstraZeneca shipment in the country.
“As we fight the pandemic together, the United States will continue to support the Philippines’ vaccination and Covid-19 mitigation efforts,” US chargé d’affaires John Law said on Friday, noting that Washington “is proud to be the largest contributor to COVAX.”
Law said the US government had so far provided over P1.1 billion in financial assistance to the country’s pandemic response.
Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the WHO representative to the Philippines, said “we all welcome the addition of vaccines to the available tools in the country, which, when used to scale, will contribute to the gradual return of day-to-day activities and economic revival in the country.”
“The delivery of Covid-19 vaccines in the Philippines is a powerful step in that direction,” he added. —WITH REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS AND NEIL ARWIN MERCADO
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