MANILA - The Philippines is aiming to complete its COVID-19 vaccination program by 2023, a health official said Wednesday, amid global competition of the highly sought-after coronavirus shots.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the government had until 2023 to inoculate its targeted population in case vaccine deliveries would be delayed.
"That's why we indicated in our plan for this vaccine deployment program that it's going to be until 2023 so that we have that wide margin if in case the delivery will not be on time," she said in an interview on ANC.
"We are eyeing that we can be able to reduce this (number of COVID-19 cases) or have good outcomes based on these vaccines hopefully by 2022, earlier than the 2023 target date," she added.
The country is expected to launch its COVID-19 immunization next week as some 117,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech jabs may arrive on Feb. 13.
Health authorities on Tuesday conducted simulation on the arrival of the vaccines, which were transported to the cold storage facility in Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in less than an hour.
"As long as the temperatures will be maintained, the hours or the time from the airport to the storage facility will not really matter," she said.
Based on a novel technology that uses synthetic mRNA to activate the immune system against the virus, the Pfizer/BioNTech needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 F) or below -- equivalent to an Antarctic winter.
In the government's vaccination plan, health workers shall first receive the COVID-19 jabs. They are followed by older people, persons with comorbidities or underlying conditions, other essential workers, including uniformed personnel, and indigent population -- all in group A.
Next in the priority list is group B, which are other frontline workers and special population. The remaining population or group C is at the bottom of the pile.
The Philippines aims to vaccinate up to 70 million people against COVID-19 this year to achieve herd immunity.
It is working to lock in 148 million doses from various drug makers, on top of 5.6 million shots that will come from the COVAX Facility, a global initiative that aims to ensure equitable access to the vaccines.