MANILA, Philippines — The much-awaited vaccination drive against the coronavirus disease in the Philippines is expected to start as early as February through COVAX facility, a platform set up to ensure COVID-19 jabs reach those in greatest need, officials said Monday.
This, however, depends on whether the United Nations-backed facility will approve the country’s submission for the eligibility list for the early rollout of jabs.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said during the Senate hearing on COVID-19 vaccines that the vaccination rollout is expected to begin as early as February.
“Our submission for eligibility list will be on January 18. Just in case it's approved or we're included, there will be an early deployment of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca,” said Galvez, a former military general and concurrent presidential adviser on peace process.
Under COVAX, COVID-19 vaccines will be initially delivered equally to all participating countries, initially prioritizing health care workers then expanding to cover 20% of the population. Further doses will then be made available based on a country’s needs, vulnerability and coronavirus threat.
“We’re hoping the early rollout of vaccines will reach the Philippines either in the last days of January or the first two weeks of February. The quantity is yet unclear but we hope they will be adequate to protect the frontline health workers,” said Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, World Health Organization representative to the Philippines.
Abeyasinghe said only the COVID-19 vaccine of American firm Pfizer is confirmed to be part of the early roll-out of COVAX jabs. But the platform has agreements with AstraZeneca and Moderna and it is looking at entering into deals with Johnson&Johnson and firms Sanofi and GSK.
The country’s Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved any vaccine for emergency use, which is required before it can be rolled out for mass inoculation. Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Gamaleya have applied for emergency use authorization.
Galvez said the country might receive “more or less 40 million doses” from COVAX facility.
The Philippine government is eyeing to inoculate 50 to 70 million Filipinos in 2021 alone as it hopes to close negotiations for 148 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines with various drugmakers this month.
The target, however, depends of the global supply where 80% had already been procured by other nations.
The national government has been facing criticism for its slowness in procuring shots for the country where over 487,000 COVID-19 cases have been so far recorded.
Galvez stressed the "main bulk" of the vaccine supply will be available in the second half of the year.
The vaccine czar also told senators that “main volume” of COVID-19 vaccine supply—or between 30 to 40 million doses—will be coming from US-based Novavax. The government signed an agreement to secure the supply of 30 million doses of Covovax vaccine developed by Novavax and Serum Institute of India.
The cost of the vaccine has not been finalized but the doses will be available starting the third quarter of 2021. Covovax is currently in third-stage trials.
The government is negotiating with Pfizer for “more or less 40 million doses,” Galvez also said. AstraZeneca is set to provide the country with 25 to 30 million doses, while China’s Sinovac and Russia’s Gamaleya are expected to supply 25 million doses each.
The country previously signed a deal with AstraZeneca for 2.6 million doses, which was made possible through the donations of some 30 private companies. Full trial data showed AstraZeneca’s vaccine is 70% effective on average but it can be stored at normal fridge temperatures unlike Pfizer’s which require ultra cold storage.
Malacañang said Monday the country has secured 25 million vaccine doses from Sinovac, the second most expensive among those being eyed for procurement.
The efficacy of Sinovac’s vaccine called CoronaVac has been the subject of uncertainty. The Chinese firm has not yet released global results from the final stage of its clinical trials.
The government faces the difficult task of conducting a COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which relies heavily on public trust that vaccines are both safe and effective, after the botched dengue vaccination program.
The highly politicized controversy eroded public trust on vaccines, which took decades to establish, despite no established links of deaths resulting from Dengvaxia inoculation.
As a result, a recent Pulse Asia Survey showed that only 32% of Filipinos said they will allow themselves to get vaccinated.Forty-seven percent said they are not willing to be inoculated with COVID-19 jabs, with 84% saying they were unsure of its safety.