MANILA — The World Health Organization on Tuesday said the COVID-19 vaccine supply from COVAX Facility, of which it is a member, might be able to inoculate 20% of the Philippine population before the year ends.
During a briefing with the Department of Health, WHO Country Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said that having a single-dose vaccine may make it easier for the vaccine-sharing initiative to cover more people.
Referring to the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical company Janssen, he said, “You may be aware that now there is potentially a candidate vaccine which is single dose.”
“WHO of course has not granted an EUL (emergency use listing) for this vaccine… If WHO grants an EUL and the COVAX can come to an agreement with the manufacturer, we are potentially looking at that vaccine also joining the COVAX portfolio,” he said.
“It should mean that people receiving that vaccine will need only one shot. They will not need to inject two shots. And so, we are optimistic that we will be able, through the COVAX, to provide vaccines to protect 20% of the Philippine population during this year,” the WHO official said.
The DOH previously said it would be operationally easier for the Philippines to deploy Janssen’s single-dose vaccine.
While most of the vaccines coming from COVAX are free through donations of other countries, the Philippines is expected to pay for 25% of its allocation.
Based on its Feb. 3 Interim Distribution Forecast, COVAX said the Philippines has a total allotment of 5,617,800 vaccine doses, comprised of 5,500,800 doses from AstraZeneca and 117,000 doses from Pfizer.
Sec. Carlito Galvez, Jr., the Philippines' vaccine czar, earlier said that the Philippines will acquire a total of 44 million vaccine doses from the COVAX Facility as it aims to secure 161 million doses from different sources.
Abeyasinghe said the supply from Pfizer, which was initially expected last month, is coming soon.
Pfizer’s vaccines were supposed to be the first to arrive in the Philippines but a delay in the indemnification agreement resulted in its delivery being pushed back.
Sinovac’s vaccine, which China donated, ended up being the first to reach the country and be administered, beginning March 1. It was followed by a portion of the AstraZeneca vaccine allotment from the COVAX Facility, the rollout of which also kicked off this week.
“We are expecting it will happen next month,” Abeyasinghe said of the Pfizer delivery from COVAX. “We understand now that most of almost all of the criteria that were required by the company have been addressed by the Philippine government. So, we expect it to happen either late March or in April.”
Abeyasinghe said a mix of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines amounting to 4.5 million doses will arrive in April and May.
The WHO official said that as with other countries, the willingness of people to receive COVID-19 vaccines increases as more vaccine brands are introduced.
“The Philippines is no different from many of the other countries. Initial apprehension among the population about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, is now clearly declining in,” he said.
Abeyasinghe explained that studies abroad show that “vaccine hesitancy is decreasing, and more and more people want to access the vaccines.”
“They are seeing a similar trend here in the Philippines with the arrival of the AstraZeneca vaccines and potential arrival of other vaccines through the COVAX facility. So, this is encouraging and we need to continue to work to ensure that a large proportion of the population is protected,” he said.
Dr. Nikka Hao of the DOH’s Disease Prevention and Protection Bureau also said during the same briefing that “while there is vaccine hesitancy, there is also vaccine eagerness across the country.”
COVID-19 cases in the Philippines breached 600,000 on Tuesday, with Metro Manila recently registering a spike in infections amid relaxed restrictions and what experts view as complacency by many.
The government aims to inoculate 70 million to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.