President Rodrigo Duterte is not holding any of his Cabinet members accountable for the delay in the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in the country, an official said on Tuesday.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the President "understands" that the Philippines “is at the receiving end of these vaccines."
"As much as we want to and as practicable as possible, we are doing everything we need to do, based on the requirements being asked of us," he told reporters in a televised briefing a day after the Cabinet meeting.
"At the end of the day, it's really the vaccine manufacturers' obligation, responsibility to ship it to us at a time that was promised... We are at the receiving end," Nograles said.
The World Health Organization also on Tuesday noted the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, which an official said was evidence that “we still need to improve our response to COVID-19.”
Despite earlier estimates that the Philippines could start vaccinating against COVID-19 by this month, the country has yet to receive any vaccine shipments.
With more than 563,000 cases and 12,107 deaths, the Philippines has the second highest COVID-19 infections and casualties in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.
Asked if this meant that Duterte was blaming vaccine makers instead of Cabinet members for the vaccination delay, Nograles said: "We are doing everything that we must and need to do.”
The lack of an indemnification deal that would protect vaccine makers from lawsuit in case of adverse effects has delayed the arrival of 117,000 COVID-19 shots from Pfizer through the COVAX Facility, initially expected in mid-February.
Issues with the emergency use authorization, which China required for its donation of 600,000 COVID-19 shots to the Philippines, also pushed back their supposed arrival this Tuesday. The Philippine Food and Drug Administration eventually granted the EUA on Monday.
WHO also said the Philippines already received a side letter from COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer Pfizer, and that minor details are just being finalized in order for the country to receive its much-needed jabs.
Pfizer’s vaccines through the COVAX Facility, of which WHO is a member, were supposed to be the first to arrive in the Philippines this month, but the shipment was delayed due to the required indemnification agreement.
The delay pushed back the scheduled immunization for health workers, who are being prioritized by the government.
Besides the need for an indemnification law or deal, “there are some several minor clauses” mentioned in a side letter sent by Pfizer to the Philippine government on Tuesday morning, according to WHO Country Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe.
The Philippines has also completed all requirements for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines being supplied by the COVAX Facility, Abeyasinghe added.
“I also want to update you that the Philippines has met all the requirements necessary for accessing the AstraZeneca vaccines,” he said during a briefing with the Department of Health.
Abeyasinghe confirmed around 5.5 million to 9.2 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, which the FDA already approved for emergency use, have been earmarked for the country.
Only Pfizer and AstraZeneca have been included in the WHO’s emergency use listing, making it easier for member countries to approve the said companies’ COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use.
“What we are now looking at is accelerating delivery of those AstraZeneca vaccines, at least a part of that shipment to the Philippines,” Abeyasinghe said.
Meanwhile, the Philippines logged on Tuesday 1,414 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the country's total to 564,865, the Department of Health reported.
Eight laboratories were not able to submit their data to the COVID-19 Document Repository System on February 22.
The DOH also reported 16 additional COVID-related deaths, raising the death toll to 12,107.
There are 72 additional patients who recovered from the infectious disease, according to the DOH. Total recoveries climbed to 522,941.
Of the 29,817 active cases, 88.4 percent have mild symptoms, 5.7 percent are asymptomatic, 2.6 percent are in critical condition, 2.5 percent have severe symptoms, and 0.84 percent have moderate symptoms.
There are 62 COVID-19 cases in the Philippines with the more transmissible variant from the United Kingdom. However, the DOH said there was still not enough evidence to show community transmission of the said variant.
Five cases, two tagged as recovered, were removed from the official tally for being duplicate entries, the DOH said.
Moreover, three cases previously tagged as deaths were reclassified as recoveries while three cases that were previously tagged as recoveries were reclassified as deaths after final validation.
The Philippines has not yet received any shipment of legal vaccines which it aims to give to 70 million people or about two-thirds of the population this year.
Further delays could derail economic recovery after the country's worst contraction on record last year, when it slumped 9.5 percent, the worst in Southeast Asia.