PH to get new supply through COVAX facility
The COVAX Facility has committed to replacing all expiring vaccines the Philippines has procured, including those bought by the private sector and local governments, the Department of Health (DOH) said Tuesday.
DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said the country’s vaccine wastage was less than 10 percent, the threshold set by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is behind the COVAX Facility.
She added that the DOH is open to investigations on expiring and wasted jabs.
“We’ve already gotten the commitment of Covax that they will be replacing all of these expired doses, even from the private and the local governments,” said Vergeire in a press briefing, adding the replacement jabs would be delivered by schedule.
The private sector led by former presidential adviser Joey Concepcion had repeatedly warned the government that P5.1 billion worth of vaccines the firms purchased were about to expire, some in July and others this month.
The DOH then said private companies that had bought COVID-19 vaccines that have expired knew what to do with them as early as October last year.
At that time, the Health Department said the private sector was given the option of donating its vaccines directly to local government units.
It noted that the law allows chief medical officers of private companies to make their own vaccine recipient lists and implement steps that could expedite vaccine deployment and avoid expiry.
However, Concepcion, the Go Negosyo founder, has been leading the private sector appeals to the DOH’s Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) since April to allow second booster vaccinations.
Private firms could only purchase COVID-19 vaccines from manufacturers in tripartite deals with the government.
A total of 71.9 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated as of Aug. 8, Vergeire said. Of the total figure, 16.6 million have received a booster, while 1.5 million have received a second booster, she added.
The government aims to administer 443,892 additional doses daily so the country can reach 23 million more booster shots by Oct. 8, which marks the 100th day of the Marcos administration.
Meanwhile, Vergeire said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently reviewing Janssen’s application for a certificate of product registration (CPR) for its COVID-19 vaccine.
Janssen, which received an emergency use authorization for its single-dose vaccine in April 2021, is the only vaccine manufacturer that has applied for a CPR, which would allow it to sell its product to the public.
“The FDA is currently reviewing and exercising the necessary work for Janssen’s application,” Vergeire said in a mix of Filipino and English.
The DOH has also presented to the Inter-Agency Task Force Against COVID-19 some considerations as the country’s state of calamity declaration is set to lapse next month, Vergeire said.
The country’s vaccination program is anchored on the state of calamity declaration and vaccines’ emergency use authorization will “cease to be valid” if it is not extended, she said.
The government’s emergency procurement, tax exemptions for donors, price controls for COVID-19 drugs and testing kits, and health workers’ benefits will also cease once the state of calamity expires, Vergeire said.
“We’re studying everything and coordinating with other agencies so we can manage all processes that will cease and everybody will still be protected,” she said.
Meanwhile, the independent OCTA Research Group said the country may experience a further increase in COVID-19 cases once schools resume in-person classes.
“We really have to set expectations that it’s very possible that there will be an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases when the children go back to school,” said OCTA Research fellow Guido David.
“However, we are not saying that we should not send them back to school because they have been stuck at home for more than two years now. The quality of education, children’s schooling, and their social life are affected, so we have to send them back to school,” he said.
The School Year 2022-2023 is set to open on Aug. 22 and will end on July 7, 2023.
To mitigate the COVID-19 infections in schools, David said protocols should be set in place with regards to air ventilation and physical distancing.
He also stressed the need for teachers and other school personnel to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Department of Education (DepEd) earlier said it is coordinating with the DOH to roll out a mobile COVID-19 vaccination site and organize counseling sessions among unvaccinated learners in schools.
Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte earlier said that the commingling of children who are vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who are not would not be a problem once face-to-face classes resume.
Also on Tuesday, the DOH said it has detected 927 more cases of the COVID-19’s Omicron subvariants BA.5, BA.4, and BA.2.12.1.
The government found 909 additional cases of the Omicron BA.5, 11 more cases of the BA.4, and seven new cases of the BA.2.12.1, Vergeire said.
The latest figures raise the country’s total to 4,013 BA.5 cases, 181 BA.2.12.1 cases, and 115 BA.4 cases, Vergeire said.
Of the 909 new BA.5 cases, a total of 814 have recovered, while 49 were undergoing isolation.
The status of the remaining 43 patients was being verified, Vergeire said.
All of the 11 new BA.4 cases and of the seven new BA.2.12.1 have recovered, she added.
Of the additional BA.2.12.1 cases, six were fully vaccinated while the inoculation status of the remaining patient was being verified.
The exposure and travel histories of all patients have yet to be identified, she said.
The Philippines last week recorded its first two cases of the Omicron BA.2.75 subvariant who are from Western Visayas, the DOH said.
The sub-variant, dubbed “Centaurus” due to its rapid spread, is more transmissible than other sub-lineages and is likely to have high immune evasion, Vergeire earlier said.