MANILA, Philippines — The 117,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID vaccines may finally arrive in the country by early March, according to World Health Organization (WHO) country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe.
Noting that the required indemnification agreement has been signed by both Pfizer and the Philippines, he said the next step would be the scheduling of the shipment.
“Upon completion of that (agreement), only (then) will they schedule the shipment. Last evening, I was made to understand that this may happen within the next two weeks,” Abeyasinghe said during the Laging Handa public briefing yesterday.
While he noted that Pfizer has not sent out indemnification agreement yet to any of the countries that are eligible for the vaccination rollout, he gave assurance that the COVAX facility is working closely with the firm to make sure that it sends this out—the last step waiting to be accomplished for the delivery of vaccines.
On top of the vaccines arriving in the next two weeks, Abeyasinghe said, another shipment of vaccines may also be delivered by late March or early April.
He further reported that additional AstraZeneca vaccines are ready for possible shipment to the Philippines if all requirements are complied with.
“What I said is that there is a quantity of vaccine that have been readied for shipment. They are not earmarked for the Philippines. But if the Philippines can meet the requirements that are necessary, maybe we will be able to access these vaccines too,” Abeyasinghe said.
He added that WHO is also looking to grant Emergency Use Listing, which opens the way for the delivery of vaccines, to several other potential COVID vaccines.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stressed that due to limited global supply, Filipinos don’t have the luxury of choosing which brand they would be vaccinated with.
In a television interview, FDA director general Eric Domingo said pharmaceutical firms are only capable of supplying a certain amount of vaccines to the Philippines.
“There is no single vaccine company that will be able to supply all our requirements. For example, Pfizer; it can only deliver a few million this 2021. So, this means that we would have to source 20 to 30 million somewhere from the vaccines that will be approved by the FDA,” he pointed in Filipino.
At the House committee on people’s participation hearing yesterday, Domingo revealed that Russia’s Gamaleya Institute, which manufactures the Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19, has not yet secured an emergency use authorization (EUA) in the country due to incomplete requirements.
He said the FDA has already sought the assistance of the Russian embassy here to expedite the processing of EUA application.
So far, only Pfizer and AstraZeneca have secured EUAs from the FDA. The Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac also has not secured the required authorization yet.
“We need some documents of course to be attested to by the manufacturer and we know the manufacturer is in Russia and it’s very difficult for some documents to go there and get here,” Domingo told members of the House panel.
He added that Gamaleya also needs to submit a good manufacturing practice (GMP) certification, which is required to “assure the consistency of the quality of the product.”
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon lamented that the Philippines is still scrambling to secure supplies when six out of 10 countries in Southeast Asia have already begun their vaccination programs.
He cited Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar as among the countries that have started rolling out the jabs, which left the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Thailand behind.
“Many are baffled by our situation. Out of the 10 countries in Southeast Asia, six have already started inoculating their citizens,” Drilon said during a Senate session Wednesday. “Why is it that we still do not have the vaccination until now?”
Drilon said the government targets to inoculate at least 70 million Filipinos to achieve herd immunity but has not signed any supply agreement for COVID-19 vaccines yet.
“I cannot emphasize this enough: our survival as a nation largely depends on our ability to ensure immediate access and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to our people. At the rate things are going, however, Filipinos have to wait longer,” he added.
He reiterated that apart from Filipinos’ lack of confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, politics poses a challenge to the government’s mass vaccination program against coronavirus. — Cecille Suerte Felipe, Alexis Romero