President Rodrigo Duterte vouched for the efficacy of the available COVID-19 vaccines as he personally received the first batch of AstraZeneca doses through the COVAX Facility, a global vaccine-sharing initiative led by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The 487,200 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived at 7:19 p.m. at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay on board a KLM flight from Belgium.
“I appeal to our kababayan: Please get vaccinated and be a partner of the government in preventing the further spread of the disease. These vaccines are safe and are key to reopening our society,” the President said late Thursday evening.
He also thanked the donor countries who made the COVAX allocation possible.
“I express my deep gratitude to the donor countries. That you remember the poor nations is already a plus for humanity,” he said.
“No one is safe globally until everyone is safe,” Duterte added.
On Sunday, the country received its first delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, 600,000 doses of the vaccine made by China’s Sinovac.
The country expects to get 5.6 million COVID-19 doses from COVAX. The government will pay for one-fourth of these doses, while the rest will be given for free, officials said.
Earlier Thursday, the WHO said over 4.5 million AstraZeneca doses would be delivered to the Philippines from March to May through COVAX.
In an interview on radio dzBB, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the WHO has assured President Duterte that vaccines from Pfizer would be provided to the Philippines and may arrive in April.
He said 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Sinovac that the Philippine purchased will arrive in the third week of March.
The AstraZeneca vaccines were brought to a cold storage facility in Marikina City.
“AstraZeneca is proud to be the first vaccine from COVAX to arrive in the Philippines,” said the company’s country president Lotis Ramin.
“We have been working closely with all key stakeholders to fulfill our commitment to provide broad and equitable access to an effective, well-tolerated, and simple-to-administer vaccine at no profit during the pandemic,” said Ramin.
“We will continue to work with the Philippine national and local governments, private donors, and COVAX to pave the way for return to normalcy and economic recovery for all Filipinos,” he added.
AstraZeneca was the first global pharmaceutical company to join COVAX in June 2020 in line with the company’s shared commitment to global, equitable access to vaccines.
Together with its license partner the Serum Institute of India, hundreds of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be made available to 142 countries through COVAX, pending any supply and operational challenges.
The COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine has been shown to be well-tolerated and effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. A single dose of the vaccine has an efficacy of 76 percent against symptomatic COVD-19 in the first 90 days after vaccination, with no significant waning of protection during this period.
Vaccine efficacy after the second dose was higher in those with a longer interval, reaching 81.3 percent in those with a dosing interval of 12 weeks or more.
The government said the AstraZeneca vaccine can prevent the virus even after reports of South African variants in the country.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there is no reason for Filipinos to be hesitant about getting a jab with AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after reports that the vaccine has a lower efficacy rate against the South African variant.
“The presence of the South African COVID variant is not yet prevalent in our country. So I don’t think it is something that should be a basis for reluctance over the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Roque said.
The latest reports said there are six COVID-19 cases of South Africa variant in the Philippines on top of at least 87 of the UK variant.
“AstraZeneca is as popular as Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 and being used in European countries and the US,” he said.
The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine secured an emergency use authorization (EUA) in several countries and no less than the World Health Organization (WHO) itself.
“So, at this point, all I can say is let’s trust the experts. If no less than WHO has also given EUA to AstraZeneca then it must be safe, it must be effective,” Roque added.
A total of 40 mild adverse events following immunization (AEFI) have been recorded amid the rollout of coronavirus vaccines from China’s Sinovac, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Thursday.
FDA chief Eric Domingo, in an interview on “Balitanghali,” said the cases only experienced mild symptoms like pain at the injection site.
There were no severe reactions reported.
On Tuesday, the Department of Health said the government will be held accountable for AEFIs since COVID-19 vaccines are still under development and emergency use authorization.
The Philippines began its vaccination program on Monday with the rollout of 600,000 Sinovac doses.
On Thursday, European Union Ambassador Luc Véron said Team Europe, the biggest contributor to the COVAX Facility, was proud to contribute to efforts to provide affordable and fair access to vaccines for Filipinos
Under the Team Europe approach, the EU has already provided P130 billion which corresponds to € 2.2 billion to help 92 low and middle-income countries, including the Philippines, to help gain access to COVID-19 vaccines.
“Under COVAX, the Philippines will receive vaccines for 22 million Filipinos,” the EU envoy added.
The objective to inoculate 20 percent of the population is part of the health approach to end the acute phase of the coronavirus 2019 crisis.
“The EU has both a responsibility and interest to make vaccines available to all. The European Union has maintained its goal to work in solidarity for vaccine cooperation and multilateralism – none is safe until everyone is safe,” the EU ambassador said.