The Philippines is 100 percent ready for the arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccines next week and will need only a day or two after that to ramp up its vaccination drive, the Palace said Monday.
“Our country is well prepared for our vaccination drive to begin Feb. 15,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in an online briefing. "It's just a matter of when the plane carrying the Pfizer vaccines will actually land in NAIA (Ninoy Aquino International Airport).”
The first batch of vaccines will come from the COVAX Facility, which seeks to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte would be among the first to receive the vaccine because he is a senior citizen, but his family will not be given the same priority.
“It is important that he gets vaccinated to boost the confidence of the public,” Roque said, adding the government is 100 percent ready for the vaccination program.
Roque said Duterte's family would not be included in the priority list unless they have co-morbidities.
“The COVAX Facility said in its letter that it will be made available, it will come to us by mid-February. We expect that they will give us notice two to three days before they load the vaccines in the airplane so we can prepare for fetching them at the airport,” Roque added.
Roque said last week that the Philippines is set to receive 117,000 doses of vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech from the World Health Organization (WHO)-led COVAX Facility.
The government has identified the priority population in its COVID 19 vaccination program, starting with frontline health workers and senior citizens.
University of the Philippines researchers tracking the pandemic said 70 percent of Metro Manila’s population could be vaccinated against COVD-19 this year.
“I think the total population in three areas will be almost half of the Philippine population,” Guido David from the Octa Research Group said.
“The advantage of that we have some of the more modern health facilities here and we have a local government system that is well structured,” he added.
The national government aims to vaccinate 70 percent of the country’s population to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19.
However, David said this cannot be done in a year as there will be several things to consider such as transportation, storage, distribution, and keeping track of those vaccinated.
“That is... a little optimistic, I believe. I think maybe we can’t get 70 million in one year because there will be [a] logistic nightmares to consider,” David said.
Also on Monday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the Philippines will also explore the use of Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine, which was found to be 91.6 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19, according to results published in the medical journal The Lancet.
Locsin said Galvez had also asked his department to “engage more” with India, whose Bharat Biotech last month submitted its emergency use application to the Food and Drug Administration for its COVID-19 vaccine.
In other developments:
• Health care professionals on Monday urged the public, especially the private sector, to follow the government’s prioritization list for the rollout of coronavirus vaccines to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable groups. The Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) made the call amid reports that several local government units and private companies have secured doses of COVID-19 vaccines. “Let’s not try to jump the line,” Dr. Antonio Dans said at a news conference. “Vaccination should not be done according to the capacity to pay, but according to exposure, risk, need, and capacity,” Dans said.
• A panel in the House of Representatives has approved a consolidated substitute bill that would exempt COVID-19 vaccines from duties and value added tax.