MANILA (UPDATE) - The Philippines might start the COVID-19 vaccination of people outside its priority groups by August or September, an official leading the drive said on Thursday.
The country will receive about 20 to 25 million COVID-19 shots between June and July, which will be enough for almost all priority groups, said vaccine "czar" Carlito Galvez Jr.
"Iyong ating tinatawag na other target adult population o 'yong general populace, baka mag-start po tayo [ng pagbabakuna] nang August o September," he said in a press briefing.
(We might start the vaccination by August or September of what we call the other target adult population or general population.)
The vaccination drive currently covers the top 3 priority groups, including health workers, the elderly, and people with health risks.
The fourth and fifth priority groups - economic frontliners and indigents - will start getting vaccines in June, said Galvez, who is also chief implementer of the National Task Force Against COVID-19.
The Philippines has so far received 4.025 million COVID-19 shots, about 1.8 million of which have been administered, he said.
"Pipilitin po natin na 'yong 2 million marker, matapos po natin ngayong buwan," Galvez said.
(We will strive to cross the 2 million marker this month.)
140 MILLION DOSES FOR 2021
In May, the government expects to take delivery of about 4 million vaccine doses, including batches from Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech, Britain's AstraZeneca, and Russia's Gamaleya Institute, he said.
For within the year, the country expects to receive around 140 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, excluding those coming from the World Health Organization’s COVAX facility, which are scheduled to arrive in the country not later than June.
Galvez said out of the 44 million doses coming from COVAX, 33 million doses are donations while the government paid $100-million for the remaining 11 million doses.
The country’s vaccination rate could increase from 500,000 to 1 million per week in May, and rise to around 2 to 3 million per week by July or August depending on the actual number of doses delivered to the country, he added.
Among the hardest hit by the pandemic in Asia, the Philippines aims to vaccinate up to 70 million people or two-thirds of its population this year.
The country's vaccination driver began March 1, a day after receiving its first supply of the shots.
'LAYERS OF CONTINGENCIES'
Meanwhile, Galvez said that the government had put in place “layers of contingencies” in case the second doses of AstraZeneca vaccines do not arrive in the country on time.
Around 500,000 AstraZeneca doses were scheduled to be delivered to the Philippines in early March but was postponed due to supply issues confronting the UN health agency.
The government is now considering several options which include sourcing the vaccines from either Israel, the United States or the United Kingdom, which reportedly have excess supplies, Galvez said.
He said the members of the NTF’s vaccine cluster were set to meet with US Embassy officials in Manila to discuss the possibility of procuring the country’s excess AstraZeneca doses.
In the meantime Galvez clarified that the postponed delivery of 15,000 doses of Gamaleya’s Sputnik V vaccines on April 28 were largely due to “logistical challenges.”
He said that negotiations were ongoing for the 10 million doses the government intends to purchase from Gamaleya, in which the vaccines will be delivered in tranches within a period of 4 months.