MANILA — The World Health Organization on Monday said the first batch of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines promised by the COVAX Facility will be further delayed due to a global supply shortage.
“Because of the global vaccine shortage, there will be a delay,” said WHO Country Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe during a Palace briefing.
Abeyasinghe said the agreed quantity of 920,000 vaccine doses for the next delivery might be reduced because of the shortage in vaccines worldwide.
“We have been informed is that we may need to expect a reduced quantity which may come over the next few weeks,” he said.
The WHO official assured the public that once vaccine production picks up again, the COVAX Facility, a vaccine-sharing initiative of which WHO is a member, will be able to cover 20% of the Philippine population. Most of the vaccines coming from COVAX are donated by other countries but 25% will have to be paid for by the Philippine government.
“And we are still committed to do that, we believe that when production picks up in the late second quarter, third, fourth quarters we will be able to deliver,” he said.
The Philippines has so far received 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX Facility. It is the only vaccine in the country that can be received by the elderly.
Abeyasinghe said the global shortage of vaccines is also partly due to the increase in COVID-19 cases worldwide.
“The problem is that we as a global community faced is facing a vaccine shortage,” he said.
“Serum Institute of India, which was exporting large quantities of vaccines to COVAX, based on decision by the Indian government to protect the Indian population because of the surge of cases, have decided they will not be exporting vaccines ’til the end of this month,” Abeyasinghe said, adding that the government decision applied to all Indian vaccine manufacturers.
He said the same restrictions are being placed by other developed countries that have vaccine manufacturers within their territory.
“When that happens, accessing vaccines that meet the requirements for safety and efficacy becomes a challenge. WHO is working together with many of the manufacturers to see how we can address that,” he said.
This is why planned deliveries are being delayed and scaled down.
Abeyasinghe said it is difficult that countries are rushing to vaccinate all of their citizens when there are efforts to have a more equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
He said WHO is also urging countries with excess doses to share vaccines with others.
He said they are also expecting an increase in manufacturing capacity by the 3rd and 4th quarater of this year.
“Newer vaccines will also be included in the COVAX portfolio.
So as these vaccines become available, we are optimistic we can still delivery on the vaccines required to protect the 20% of the population that is most vulnerable through the COVAX,” he said.
Abeyasinghe emphasized the importance of vaccinating health workers, the elderly, and people with comorbidities in areas with high numbers of cases.
He said it is also important to vaccinate all health workers since they can also be redeployed and ensuring their safety would ensure adequate care for sick people.
“The vaccines are a powerful tool and we need to optimize their use so we maximize the impact. This is a responsibility we all need to share,” he said.
The government plans to inoculate 70 million Filipinos by the end of the year to reach herd immunity but it has been criticized for the slow rollout of vaccines. Of the 2.5 million doses received, almost 1.5 million have already been distributed. Of this number, only 740,000 had been administered.