MANILA (UPDATDE) — The Philippines is considering donating its AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that are nearing expiry, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said on Thursday.
Government eyes giving the jabs to Myanmar, Cambodia, and some countries in Africa, said Duque.
"'Yung hindi magagamit at malapit nang mag-expire, ang desisyon diyan ay i-donate sa mga bansang mababa ang vaccine coverage," he said in a televised briefing, without giving an exact figure of the jabs.
(The decision is to donate vaccines that won't be used and are nearing expiry to countries that have low vaccine coverage.)
The number of vaccine doses to be donated depends on whether the Food and Drug Administration will approve the health department's request to extend their shelf life, Duque said.
"Pumayag ang AstraZeneca pero ang FDA na lang inaantay natin para maaprubahan ang extension ng shelf life by 3 months," he said.
(AstraZeneca has agreed, but we're waiting for the FDA to approve the extension of shelf life by 3 months.)
"Depende pa 'yan sa application na i-extend ang [shelf life ng] donated vaccines. Siyempre kung extend 'yan ay malamang mananatili pa 'yan sa atin."
(It depends on the application to extend the shelf life of donated vaccines. Of course if it's extended, then it will likely remain here.)
Duque did not give details on whether the near expiry vaccines were procured or donated to the Philippines.
The country has so far purchased 16.5 million AstraZeneca jabs. It has received 6.8 million donated shots of the same vaccine brand, while 15.5 million doses have arrived though global initiative COVAX Facility as of Wednesday, according to data gathered by the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group.
The relatively short shelf life of AstraZeneca's vaccine is complicating the rollout to the world's poorest nations, according to officials and internal World Health Organization documents reviewed by Reuters last month.
Its shelf life of just six months from the date of bottling is the shortest among top suppliers to the COVAX global vaccine-sharing scheme, several COVAX and EU officials said.
Poorer nations rejected more than 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines distributed by COVAX in December, mainly because of a rapidly approaching expiry date, a UNICEF official said.
Nearly 3 million doses of vaccines were also thrown out by African nations, officials said, leading them to call for a longer shelf life for the donated shots.
The Philippines might also donate near-expiry doses of Gamaleya's Sputnik V, according to Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, head of the National Vaccination Operations Center.
"We have an ongoing wall-to-wall count. We were thinking donating mostly our national government-procured vaccines before they reach their shelf life," she told reporters.
The country has received a total of 233 million COVID-19 vaccines, of which it has distributed 147 million and administered 137 million doses, Cabotaje added.
— With a report from Reuters