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Vax shortage to drag rollout

PH to be hit by Covax supply delays as India bans AstraZeneca exports

The Philippines and other countries depending on the COVAX facility for their COVID-19 jabs will need to find alternative sources as India has imposed a temporary ban on the export of AstraZeneca vaccines to meet local demand, Moody’s Analytics said this week.

PANDEMIC SCENES. Vaccination continues for senior citizens and adults with comorbidities at schools in Mandaluyong City.
India is one of the world's largest producers of COVID-19 vaccines, supplies millions of AstraZeneca doses to the World Health Organization (WHO)-led COVAX facility, which seeks to ensure the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

"South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam are among countries to be hit by shipment delays to vaccines they have been promised under the COVAX program. The shortage could leave these countries further behind in inoculations, increasing the vaccine inequity, and undermine international efforts to counter the pandemic," Moody's Associate Economist Eric Chiang said.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the AstraZeneca shots from the COVAX program might arrive later this month, citing information from the WHO.

“Because of the global vaccine shortage, there will be a delay. The agreed quantity which was 920,000 vaccine doses will come but because of the shortage, what we have been informed is that we may need to expect the reduced quantity which may come over [in] the next few weeks,” the WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said.

Galvez also said the Philippines would receive 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by China’s Sinovac and 500,000 doses from Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute this month.

The Philippines is the 50th country in the world with the highest number of COVID-19 shots administered, Galvez said on Tuesday.

The country has administered out 854,063 doses as of April 5, the 50th highest among 155 countries, he said. In Southeast Asia, the Philippines has the fourth highest vaccination figures, next to Indonesia, Singapore, and Myanmar, Galvez added.

Those vaccinated in the Philippines include 789,415 health workers, about 11,000 elderly, and some 7,100 people with comorbidities, said Galvez, who is also chief implementer of the National Task Force against COVID-19.

Earlier, European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen has threatened to halt exports of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines if the bloc did not receive its promised deliveries first, escalating a row that has fanned international tensions.

On Monday, US Secretary of State said the United States will soon be able to ramp up vaccine assistance abroad and will not seek "favors in return.”

Blinken said the top US priority was to fight COVID-19 at home but that the goal would be achieved soon, pointing to President Joe Biden's promise that 90 percent of Americans will be near a vaccination site by April 19.

"We are exploring options to share more with other countries going forward. We believe that we'll be in a position to do much more on this front," Blinken said.

"By helping bring to a close one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, we can show the world once again what American leadership and American ingenuity can do."

Acknowledging "growing desperation" in parts of the world, Blinken said: "I promise we're moving as fast as possible."

Blinken named Gayle Smith, who headed the US Agency for International Development under former president Barack Obama, to a new position of US coordinator for global COVID response and health security.

Smith most recently headed ONE, a campaign backed by pop star Bono to fight extreme poverty.

In a veiled criticism of China and Russia, which have assertively promoted their vaccines, Blinken said the Biden administration would follow "core values" on COVID relief and seek not to worsen inequities.

"We won't trade shots in arms for political favors. This is about saving lives," Blinken said.

"We'll treat our partner countries with respect. We won't overpromise and under-deliver," he said, vowing only to distribute vaccines "proven to be safe and effective."

PANDEMIC SCENES. Former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Taguig Rep. Lani Cayetano distribute food packs to residents of Upper Bicutan in Taguig City. Norman Cruz
The United States last month announced a joint initiative with India, Japan, and Australia to produce more than one billion more COVID vaccine doses by the end of next year, with a focus on administering them in Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, the Philippines' vaccine expert panel (VEP) has given its recommendation to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on whether Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccines can be used by senior citizens or those 60 years and above.

The Philippines has so far received 2.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines: 525,600 from the UK's AstraZeneca and 2 million from China's Sinovac.

While AstraZeneca is allowed for elderly use, Sinovac was not given the same recommendation based on its emergency use authorization because of the lack of clinical trial data.

Dr. Rontgene Solante, an infectious disease expert, said the VEP is forwarding its recommendation to the Department of Health (DOH).

Solante said while there is an absence of data on the efficacy of the Sinovac’s CoronaVac on individuals older than 60, the shortage of AstraZeneca vaccines has prompted experts to reevaluate and determine whether to recommend the use of the China-made vaccine for this age bracket.

Countries like China, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Turkey have been using CoronaVac on people older than 60 based on the vaccine’s Phase 1 and 2 clinical trial data.

“Now we are looking at the data again since they don’t have data on 60 years old and above. At this point, we need the vaccine for those 60 years old and above,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino during a DOH briefing.

“The question now is, can we change the recommendation to say that we can give the vaccine to [those] 60 years old and above… We in the VEP already made our recommendation, we just finished the recommendation the other day,” he said but declined to say what that was, saying the Department of Health would make the announcement.

Also on Tuesday, testing czar Vince Dizon rejected calls for mass testing in Metro Manila and said risk-based targeted screening was the way to go, according to the experts. With AFP

Topics: AstraZeneca , COVID-19 , Vaccine , vaccine expert panel , COVAX , Ursula von der Leyen
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