Video courtesy of Department of Health
MANILA — The current supply of COVID-19 vaccines in the country is still not enough for health workers, which is why the priority vaccination list should be strictly followed, the Department of Health said on Monday.
“No, it is not yet enough,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, in a media briefing, said of the over 1 million doses of vaccines that have arrived in the country since last week.
She said that the donated 600,000 doses from Chinese drugmaker Sinovac are only good for 300,000 individuals, and the more than 500,000 doses from AstraZeneca are for around 260,000 people, since each recipient needs 2 doses of each vaccine brand.
“Pero, pag in-add mo s'ya, it’s just going to comprise about 500,000 plus doses. We know that we have 1.8 million estimated health care workers from the hospitals down to the community across the different regions of the country. So kulang pa po para makumpleto natin ang ating health workers,” Vergeire said.
(If we add that, it’s just going to comprise 500,000 plus doses. We know that we have 1.8 million estimated health care workers from hospitals down to the community across the different regions of the country. So it’s really not enough to cover all of our health workers.)
Vergeire's explanation comes amid reports of some government officials being vaccinated ahead of health workers despite not getting prior approval from the national government.
Quezon province Rep. Helen Tan had said she was vaccinated at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center because her son, who works there as a surgeon, was entitled to include family members in the facility's inoculation program.
Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority public services head Michael Salalima were supposedly prompted by Pasay General Hospital staff to be vaccinated as well last week.
Malacañang earlier said that only vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr., testing czar Vince Dizon, and Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Benhur Abalos Jr. were allowed by the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) to be vaccinated alongside health workers to boost vaccine confidence.
Vergeire said that once vaccination is completed in hospitals in other regions, the vaccines will be brought down to the community level.
“Pagkatapos, yung iba pang priorities natin for health care workers like yung outpatient clinics, dialysis clinics, mga caregiver sa private, then pupunta tayo sa nursing home staff,” she said. “Lahat ito iko-cover muna natin, bago tayo pumunta next priority sector which is the senior citizens.”
(After that is our other priorities for health care workers like outpatient clinics, dialysis clinics, private caregivers, then nursing home staff. We’ll cover all of them before going to the next priority sector, which is the senior citizens.)
Vergeire said that while they have operational estimates on how many vaccines can be administered to health workers, they do not have targets since health workers have the option to choose or refuse to be vaccinated.
She said hospitals have been reminded not to administer two different brands of vaccines on the same day.
While the vaccines are still not enough for health workers, additional doses would allow the DOH to reach other hospitals in other regions.
Vergeire said the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is scheduled for rollout beginning this day, will also be given to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, the Jose B Lingad Memorial Regional Hospital in Pampanga, and the Bataan General Hospital and Medical Center.
She said a simple ceremony will mark the start of the rollout of vaccines in these facilities.
Asked if the government officials who supposedly breached the priority line will still get their second dose, Vergeire said they would as the second dose for all those vaccinated are already allocated and secured.
“Hindi pwedeng sayangin ang bakuna na nabigay na. Kailangan ibigay pa rin yung second dose,” she said.
(We cannot waste the vaccine that is already given. They will have to be given a second dose.)
Vergeire, however, reminded Filipinos that the agreement with the COVAX Facility, from which the current AstraZeneca vaccine supply came, entails prioritization of health workers. Seventy-five percent of the vaccine doses the Philippines is getting from COVAX is free of charge, while the remaining 25 percent will be paid for by government.
“These AstraZenca vaccines are for health care workers and any breach doon sa protocol na pinapatupad natin ngayon might jeopardize the succeeding batches that will be coming from COVAX. Kaya nakikiusap po tayo, sundin po ang prioritization framework natin. Lahat naman tayo magkakaroon ng bakuna in the coming months ahead,” she said.
(These AstraZeneca vaccines are for health care workers and any breach in the protocol that we have now might jeopardize the succeeding batches that will be coming from COVAX. That is why we are appealing that we follow the prioritization framework. We’ll all be vaccinated in the coming months ahead.)
Vergeire also clarified that families of health workers are not being prioritized.
“No, they are not eligible,” she said, adding that they can be prioritized if they fall under the other priority sectors such as senior citizens.
Close to 15,000 health workers in the country have contracted COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, of whom, a little over 200 are currently battling the disease. Eighty-two have died.
The Philippines received the Sinovac vaccine, its first supply, last Feb. 28, followed by those from AstraZeneca on March 4 and March 7. The country's vaccination rollout kicked off March 1.
The government said it aims to inoculate up to 70 million in the country to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus, which, as of Sunday, has infected 594,412 people.