MANILA (UPDATED) - The Philippines on Monday received 193,050 doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine candidate, giving the country its 4th brand of jab against the coronavirus.
The shipment from the American pharmaceutical giant, courtesy of the World Health Organization-led COVAX facility, arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 around 9 p.m.
“These additional Pfizer vaccines will be used on priority groups A1 to A3, who will be receiving the first dose of these vaccines," Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a statement.
"Many of the people who will receive the COVID-19 vaccines arriving today are Filipino healthcare workers – whose dedication and hard work continues to save lives and keep us safe. Healthcare workers are at the front of the line for vaccination because they are risking their health at the frontlines for the rest of us," Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative to the Philippines, said in the same statement.
The initial delivery of the Pfizer vaccine would be used to test the logistics needed to store and transport the vaccines, relevant agencies said.
The vaccine will be distributed in Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao, which have facilities for storage of the product, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an online press conference hours before the vaccines arrived.
Pfizer's vaccine needs to be stored in freezers with -70 degrees Celsius temperature.
"Ito 'yung may mga subok na... na 'yung ultra low freezer nila at handling ay makakaya so hindi tayo magkakaroon ng wastage," she said.
(These are the ones that have shown that they have ultra low freezers and that they are capable of handling these vaccines so we don't have wastage.)
The United States embassy in the Philippines welcomed the arrival of the latest batch of vaccines.
"As the largest contributor to COVAX, the United States welcomes the arrival of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine here in the Philippines. I am proud that this extraordinarily safe and effective vaccine, developed through US scientific ingenuity, will protect Filipinos. As we fight the pandemic together, the United States will continue to support the Philippines’ vaccination and COVID-19 mitigation efforts," said US Embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Law in a statement.
The embassy also said the US has already has provided an initial P97.2 billion ($2 billion), and the Philippines is among the first countries in the region to have received COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX facility.
To date, total US government COVID-19 assistance to the Philippines amounts to nearly P1.3 billion ($27 million).
The Philippines has been administering first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines to health care workers, senior citizens, and persons with comorbidities since the rollout started March 1.
A ceremonial start for the inoculation of those in the A4 priority group - the economic frontliners - was also held last May 1.
The Philippines was supposed to get its first vaccines from Pfizer early this year, but the deal fell through after the Department of Health reportedly failed to submit complete documentary requirements to the firm.
The government hopes to get a total of 1.3 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine through the COVAX facility.
Aside from Pfizer's, the Philippines has received the vaccine candidates of AstraZeneca, Sinovac and Gamaleya Institute.
With Monday's shipment, the country's COVID-19 vaccine stock rose to 7,733,650 doses.
As of Sunday, 2,409,235 doses have been administered, of which, 1,513,883 were given to health workers, according to vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez, Jr.
The Philippines has recorded a total of 1,108,826 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 59,897 active infections, 18,562 fatalities, and 1,030,367 recoveries, as of Monday.
Up to 70 million are target for inoculation this year to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.
COVID-19, coronavirus, Pfizer, COVID-19 vaccine, health, DOH, Department of Health, Maria Rosario Vergeire