Galvez sees mass vaccination starting in May
The mass vaccination of Filipinos against COVID-19 may begin in May, with the government aiming to complete its immunization of 1.7 million health workers by mid-April, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., the chief implementer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, said at a press briefing on Friday.
Galvez said more health workers were expected to be inoculated soon after President Duterte approved the use of all 525,400 AstraZeneca vaccines in the country as first dose shots for them. The vaccines arrived on March 4.
The second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is supposed to be administered in three months. According to Galvez, 979,000 AstraZeneca shots from the COVAX global vaccine pool are due to arrive this month.
The Philippines also received a donation of 600,000 Sinovac doses on March 1. Together with the AstraZeneca doses, the country has a total of 1.125 million doses.
As of March 18, 292,677 people have been vaccinated, Galvez reported.
The vaccine czar also announced the signing of an agreement between the government, the private sector led by businessman Enrique Razon Jr. and US biotech company ModernaTX for the delivery of 20 million doses of the Moderna vaccine.Of this total, 7 million will be for the private sector’s front-liners and 13 million will be allotted to the government.
Galvez said “most likely we will see the massive vaccination … this coming May should the orders from AstraZeneca and also Moderna arrive.”
EUA for Sputnik
Furthermore, he said 400,000 Sinovac doses donated by China and 1 million Sinovac doses procured by the government are also due to arrive this month. This is aside from another 4 million Sinovac doses due to arrive in April and May and 2.6 million doses of other vaccines from the private sector, Galvez said.
The government also plans to procure 2 to 3 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Institute which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted an emergency use authorization (EUA).
At his online press briefing, FDA Director General Eric Domingo said: “After a rigorous and thorough review, the FDA is granting EUA to the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine. It is decided that all conditions for an EUA are present and that the benefit of using the vaccine outweighs the known and potential risks.”
The Russian-made vaccine is the fourth to be granted an EUA in the Philippines, after Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Sinovac.
“The interim data from the ongoing phase three trials as published in [the] Lancet [medical journal] show that the vaccine has [an] overall efficacy of 91.6 percent in preventing COVID-19. And the efficacy rate is consistent among all age groups, 18 and older,” Domingo said.
The vaccine is administered in two doses of 0.5 milliliters intramuscular injections, 21 days apart.
‘Problem is supply’
Galvez also took the occasion to respond to a tweet by Sen. Panfilo Lacson questioning the country’s limited vaccine supply despite mounting foreign loans of some P126.75 billion since last year.
“Even if we have money to buy the vaccines, we cannot get them. Even if we have negotiations, these would still be available in the third quarter or fourth quarter. Even if we dig into the ground, we cannot get vaccines because the problem is the supply,” Galvez said.
He noted that the United States has prioritized the immunization of its citizens with the Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines so that the country would be free from coronavirus infection by July.
“So what we see is there will be an easing up of the vaccine dosage most likely by July,” he said.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque also responded to Lacson’s criticism, saying that the country’s lenders, such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank are the ones managing the procurement of the vaccines.
“So it should not be asked where are the vaccines despite the loans that were obtained. We have approved loans and the proceeds of the loans would be directly paid to the vaccine manufacturers,” Roque said.
Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda suggested that, to help the private sector secure the much-needed vaccines, key government agencies should hasten the issuance of the implementing rules and regulations for Republic Act 11525 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act.
Signed by Mr. Duterte on Feb. 26, the law provides a legal framework for the COVID-19 vaccination program, including indemnification for those who may suffer severe adverse reactions after vaccination.
“Every day that the rules on private sector vaccine procurement are not being released, we lose precious time to prevent unnecessary infections. The provisions in the law are self-explanatory. It should not take too long to write the implementing guidelines. They should have been ready before the law was passed,” Salceda said in a statement.
“The rules have to be simple and reasonable. No unnecessary restrictions, especially those outside legislative intent,” he added.
Salceda also said “Our legislative intent with the law was to ensure that as many private sector participants as possible could participate. Considering that tripartite agreements will include the mandatory donation of vaccines to the government, and considering the recipients will also be Filipino workers anyway, this is the best chance we have to pump-prime vaccination.”
The Department of Health, the National Task Force against COVID-19 and the Government Procurement Policy Board are tasked with drafting the implementing rules for the law.
Salceda said a faster rollout of vaccination efforts is a far more preferable option over large-scale community quarantines and lockdowns.
“Strong lockdowns were strategic at the early stages. Viruses multiply exponentially. You impose lockdowns at the beginning of the exponent. That’s where it matters the most. The best time was to lock down the moment we caught the superspreader event in Greenhills. Now, it will kill more jobs than it will prevent infections,” he said. —WITH REPORTS FROM PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU AND JULIE M. AURELIO
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