The first batch of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccines will arrive in May or June this year, one of President Rodrigo Duterte's advisers said Wednesday.
This is contrary to the previous announcement of Malacañang that the doses would arrive in July. The Philippines has secured 17 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine so far, good for 8.5 million Filipinos, with the help of private firms and local governments.
"The succeeding batches will move towards July, August so hopefully later part of the 2nd quarter and the bulk of them would be in the 3rd quarter," presidential adviser on entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion told ANC's Headstart.
Aside from rank-and-file employees, contractual workers, and supervisors, managers and CEOs should also be inoculated to boost vaccine confidence, the founder of GoNegosyo added.
Billionaire Enrique Razon, meantime, assured the government he would shoulder the transportation of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine which needs to be stored at -25 degrees Celsius.
Terms sheets have been signed with Moderna, AstraZeneca and Novavax drug makers, according to Malacañang.
Sinovac clinical trial
The Department of Health said the government allowed Chinese firm Sinovac to run clinical trials in the country because the study seeks to test COVID-19 vaccines on a “specific population.”
This, as Sinovac is also applying for emergency use authorization in the country.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said she could not reveal the sector to be tested or the protocol since it was with the Department of Science and Technology.
“Our intention for allowing them even while they are applying for an EUA is because they want to try it on a specific population to see the effect on us Asians and this specific group of population,” she said.
Currently, there are two ways for a COVID-19 vaccine under development to enter the Philippines — by conducting a study through clinical trials or by getting an EUA that allows the vaccine to be procured by the national government for an immunization program.
Other vaccine developers like Gamaleya Institute of Russia already withdrew their clinical trial applications upon collecting enough data to apply for EUA in the Philippines.
The DOH said Wednesday it could only accept COVID-19 vaccine donations that successfully went through the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire “It has to be registered. And that’s in our law… that says Filipinos cannot be given unregistered vaccines. Or with this public health emergency, there should be emergency use authority before we accept a donation,” she said.
Vergeire explained that both donations and procurement would require an EUA.
Currently, only Pfizer, which has also been approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, has secured an EUA in the Philippines.
China said it plans to donate 500,000 vaccine doses to the Philippines.
The FDA has not granted an EUA to any of the China-made vaccine candidates, particularly those from Sinovac and Sinopharm. Sinovac, which already has a 25 million supply deal with the Philippines, is still undergoing FDA evaluation.
Pool of vaccinators
Senator Richard Gordon has filed a bill that seeks to expand the country’s pool of vaccinators for the implementation of the government’s national program for immunization in times of epidemics, pandemics and national health emergencies. such as the COVID-19 pandemic that was declared as a global health emergency by the World Health Organization.
“Since we have limited number of doctors, nurses and midwives that will aid in the COVID-19 vaccination program, we filed a bill that expands the pool of vaccinators of the DOH by training other professionals such as dentists, veterinarians, medical technologists and even those without medical background to be vaccinators,” said Gordon.
According to DOH, there are only 617,239 health care workers, coming from both public and private health institutions, that will help in administering the COVID-19 vaccines.
“If we expand the manpower for the vaccination program, the government’s target of inoculating 50 to 70 million Filipinos to be able to achieve herd immunity or population immunity can be attained.”
Senator Risa Hontiveros said Wednesday the FDA and the DFA should wait for peer-reviewed data of the Phase 3 study of Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine, CoronaVac, before granting Emergency Use Approval or accepting the vaccine as a gift from China.
The DFA reported that China promised 500,000 free jabs to the Philippines.
“For the record, China continues to bully us in our own waters and maintains a telecom deal in our own military camps. We should be wary of gifts it gives us in the name of friendship if they would not give us important data about the vaccine,” said Hontiveros.
If China is really our friend, the senator said they would go through all the steps to make sure the vaccine was safe before giving it out for free.
Sinovac has not released the results of the Phase 3 trials it conducted in Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey which contain important information regarding side effects and duration of effectiveness.
Medical journals have also not reviewed nor published any of CoronaVac’s Phase 3 data.
Ultra low storage
The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine can store more than one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines requiring ultra low storage, the DOH said.
Health Undersecretary Vergeire’s announcement was made a day after Deputy Chief Implementer Vince Dizon of the National Task Force Against COVID-19 said the government was already negotiating with 28 private companies to ensure proper storage of COVID-19 vaccines to preserve their efficacy.
“RITM has five ultra low freezers for COVID-19 vaccines which can accommodate -20 to -80 degrees Celsius storage requirement,” Vergeire said in an online briefing. “Each ultra low freezer can store up to 230,200 doses or 46,240 vials,” she added.
In addition, Vergeire earlier said the DOH's 17 regional offices had equipment that could store vaccines requiring the 2 to 8 degrees Celsius storage temperature.
Vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III inspected Wednesday the cold storage facility of Unilab Inc. in Biñan, Laguna, to ensure preparedness for the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines in the country.
Unilab’s cold storage room, which has a temperature of 2°C to 8°C, can accommodate up to five million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The facility also has a high technology alarm system which will send an alert message if the temperature of the room is fluctuating.
Unilab can also transport the COVID-19 vaccines without compromising its temperature.
However, the partnership between Unilab and the government is yet to be formalized.
The Bureau of Customs said Wednesday it planned to use its one-stop shops in processing the expected influx of coronavirus disease 2019 vaccines into the country this year.
In a statement, the BOC said the use of one-stop shops was proven successful during the height of the pandemic when personal protective equipment (PPE) were released in a systematic and expeditious manner to contain the spread of the deadly virus.
It added that the one-stop shops are expected to be more efficient this time around with the Port Customer Care Centers now fully operational and with online systems more accessible to the public.
The BOC also said it had started preparations to facilitate the entry of approved vaccines into the country.
The Port of Ninoy Aquino International Airport has coordinated with concerned government agencies, facilities, and regulatory agencies aimed at expediting the release of the vaccines upon their arrival.
The Bureau also aims to intensify efforts against illegal and smuggled vaccines.
It added that enhanced data gathering and coordination with law enforcement agencies are underway to impose crackdown on smuggled vaccines.
The BOC also vowed to seize illegal items and apprehend unscrupulous individuals amid reports of black market vaccines being distributed and administered in the country.
Malacañang earlier said the country initially secured around 25 million doses of Sinovac vaccine, with the first 50,000 doses expected to arrive in February. With Vito Barcelo
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.