Higher vaccine share for capital planned as more doses arrive

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

THE SECOND batch of coronavirus vaccines donated by the Chinese government arrived in the Philippines on Wednesday, according to authorities heading the country’s pandemic response.

The country took delivery of about 400,000 additional doses of Coronavac developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd., the Department of Health and the National Task Force against COVID-19 said in a joint statement.

Beijing in late-February donated about 600,000 vials of CoronaVac, which kicked off Manila’s vaccination drive.

The Philippines also previously took delivery of about 525,600 doses of the vaccine developed British firm AstraZeneca, Plc through a global initiative for equal access.

Officials of the inter-agency task force leading the country’s pandemic response, including vaccine Czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr, Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III and testing czar Vivencio B. Dizon, received the latest delivery at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

“The arrival of these vaccines could not have occurred at a more opportune time considering the continued rise in cases, which in turn increases the need to inoculate more high-risk individuals as soon as possible,” Mr. Duque was quoted as saying.

In the next two days, the Philippines is also expected to receive about 979,200 more vials of AstraZeneca.

Before the month ends, Manila would also take delivery of about one million Sinovac doses paid for by the Philippine government.

The OCTA Research Team from the University of the Philippines, which has been tracking the pandemic numbers, on Wednesday said all vaccines available in the country must be deployed to the National Capital Region (NCR) and its surrounding provinces where there have been a renewed surge of transmissions.

OCTA member Ranjit S. Rye recommended that at least 4.5 million doses be given to the capital, which has been the epicenter of COVID-19 cases.

“If we win the war in the NCR, we think, we win the battle against COVID in the country,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English.

From the initial 1,125,600 Sinovac and AstraZeneca doses delivered, 818,100 have been released for the first dose, based on Department of Health (DoH) data as of Mar. 23. Of the total released, 251,235 doses or 30.7% went to NCR.

Presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Jose Maria C. Concepcion, in an interview with CNN Philippines on Wednesday, said the private sector already proposed to the task force to allocate its initial donation of vaccines for the capital region.

The private sector and local governments were able to secure about 17 million doses of AstraZeneca through a tripartite agreement with the national government and the manufacturer. About five million doses were paid for by private firms.

Mr. Concepcion said 2.6 million of private sector-funded AstraZeneca doses are expected to arrive in May. Of this initial batch, about 1.6 million doses would be given to the national government, he said.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire, in a briefing Wednesday, reiterated that the prioritization framework for vaccination should be observed after reports of some local officials receiving their first dose.

“We are all entitled to be vaccinated. We just need to have this prioritization because we do not have enough vaccines yet. We will get to that point where everyone will be given their shot,” Ms. Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Healthcare workers are at the top of the priority list followed by vulnerable groups like senior citizens and those with comorbidities.

The DoH reported 6,666 coronavirus infections on Wednesday, bringing the total to 684,311.

The death toll rose by 47 to 13,039, while recoveries increased by 1,072 to 579,518, it said in a bulletin.

There were 91,754 active cases, 95.3% of which were mild, 2.5% did not show symptoms, 0.8% were critical, 0.9% were severe, and 0.46% were moderate.

Seven laboratories failed to submit their data on Mar. 23, it said. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Vann Marlo M. Villegas