WHO: PH to be among biggest recipients of COVAX vaccines, 4.5M AstraZeneca doses coming

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 04 2021 12:02 PM | Updated as of Mar 04 2021 12:20 PM

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MANILA — The World Health Organization on Thursday said the Philippines will receive around 4.5 million of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines until May this year from the COVAX Facility, with the country set to become one of the largest recipients of jabs through the global vaccine-sharing platform. 

WHO Country Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe told reporters that an initial shipment of 487,000 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines were expected to arrive on Thursday night.

“So we had some initial problems with setting up the mechanisms and the deliveries. We are happy to note that Philippines is receiving one of the largest consignment of COVAX vaccines. In this first initial consignment, [there's] 487,000 doses,” Abeyasinghe said.

Abeyasinghe said that for the AstraZeneca vaccine alone, the COVAX Facility, of which WHO is a member, will be sending 4.58 million doses to the Philippines from March to May. 

“And in addition to that, we will also be receiving 117,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. Plus, the additional quantities of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines that will be allocated will be known before the end of this month,” he said.

Abeyasinghe said they still do not have the exact schedule of the additional AstraZeneca shipments from COVAX but that they are expected to come in large batches from a manufacturing facility in South Korea.

“And so we need to have set up in the country the capacity to manage these large stocks of vaccines coming in, and also to ensure that the rollout is carried out, aligned to the prioritization that is expected from the COVAX to maximize the impact of the vaccine rollout,” he said.

The WHO official said the Philippines has to demonstrate that it could efficiently roll out the vaccines while minimizing wastage. 

Abeyasinghe talked at length about the importance of prioritizing health workers, especially because of the huge sacrifice the sector has made for the rest of the population. 

Pfizer’s vaccines from COVAX was supposed to arrive first in the Philippines but was delayed because of a pending indemnification agreement, under which government would cover costs in case those inoculated experience adverse effects. 

The Philippines received 600,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Sinovac on Sunday. The vaccines have been rolled out to health workers all over the country.

Currently, only Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Sinovac have emergency use authorization in the Philippines. 

The Philippines has lagged behind its neighboring countries in COVID-19 vaccinations despite the large number of cases logged. There are now more than 580,000 total COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, with 35,000 active cases.