MANILA (3rd UPDATE) — The Philippines on Thursday received its first batch of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine supply from the global vaccine-sharing initiative COVAX Facility, a boost in its immunization drive following the arrival of Chinese vaccine CoronaVac earlier this week.
The shipment of 487,200 doses touched down in Manila around 7:10 p.m., according to state media. These arrived a few minutes earlier than expected, via a KLM flight from the Netherlands. The plane is currently at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Pasay City.
The vaccines were towed to Villamor Air Base's Kalayaan Hall, before they were delivered to a warehouse of Metro Pacific Investment Corp in Marikina City.
President Rodrigo Duterte, officials from the inter-agency task force leading the country's pandemic response, Department of Health (DOH), World Health Organization, and UNICEF Philippines welcomed the vaccine's arrival at NAIA.
Duterte appealed to Filipinos to get vaccinated, as the national government aims to further reopen the Philippine economy, which has been battered since March last year by strict lockdowns to curb COVID-19 transmission.
“Please get vaccinated against COVID-19 and be the government partner in preventing further spread of the disease. I encourage you to get vaccinated the soonest possible time. These vaccines are safe and they are key to reopening our society,” the President said in a speech at the welcome ceremony.
WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said the Philippines should expect another 4.5 million doses of AstraZeneca jabs to arrive in May through the COVAX Facility.
He stressed that the arrival of the COVID-19 shots in the Philippines does not mean Filipinos can be complacent, adding that minimum public health standards — such as wearing of face masks, frequent hand-sanitization and physical distancing — must still be followed.
“Economic revival will still need to be carefully calibrated to prevent future surges of cases to avoid unnecessary loss of lives, and to minimize the need to have lockdowns,” he said in his speech at the ceremony.
The AstraZeneca shots, developed in South Korea, came from Belgium and stopped over at Bangkok before being transported in the country, the health department earlier said.
It is the second batch of vaccines to officially reach the country following the arrival of COVID-19 jabs from China's Sinovac last Sunday.
The jabs are separate from the 17 million doses that the private sector and local governments procured, presidential adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion earlier said.
The Philippines is set to get a total of 5.6 million COVID-19 shots from COVAX Facility. The government will pay for one-fourth of these doses, while the rest will be given for free, officials had said.
The WHO-led facility is an initiative that aims to ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Earlier Thursday, the WHO said over 4.5 million AstraZeneca doses would be delivered to the Philippines from March to May via the vaccine-sharing platform.
Shots developed by UK's AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Sinovac have emergency use authorization in the Philippines.
Regulators have also allowed the "compassionate use" of 10,000 doses of vaccine from China's Sinopharm for President Rodrigo Duterte's security detail. Some members of the Presidential Security Group had received the said vaccine as early as September last year despite a lack of authorization from the country's drug regulator.
The Philippines' vaccine czar, Sec. Carlito Galvez, Jr. said the country is acquiring 161 million doses of various COVID-19 vaccine brands as around 70 million people are being targeted for inoculation to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.
Terms sheets have been negotiated with 7 pharmaceutical groups, and the bulk of the vaccines are expected to arrive in the second and third quarters of this year.
The Philippines as of Thursday has recorded 584,667 coronavirus infections, including 12,404 deaths and 37,226 active cases, the highest since October 31.
— With a report from Reuters, Joyce Balancio and Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News