The Philippines' pandemic response officials recommended distributing all 525,600 vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine as first doses for health workers, while allaying President Rodrigo Duterte's fears that a second shipment of the COVID-19 jabs would be delayed.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr made the recommendation in a televised briefing on Monday, March 15, citing the need to protect more health workers from the risk of the coronavirus.
"We can use all of the 525,000 AstraZeneca vaccines as first dose so we give more, we provide partial protection to a lot more healthcare workers," said Duque.
But Duterte expressed worries that AstraZeneca vaccine jabs meant as second doses for medical frontline workers who received the first dose would not arrive on time.
“Ang problema, 'yung naturukan na, at kailangan na ng second dose (The problem is, those who got injected and need a second dose). The second dose is critical here," Duterte said.
In response, Duque said the recommended interval between the first and second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine is 12 weeks or 3 months.
Galvez also told Duterte that 979,200 vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the global vaccine sharing initiative COVAX Facility are expected to arrive on March 22 or in early April at the latest.
"Kung magkaroon man ng delay, baka first week of April [dumating]," Galvez said.
(If there would be a delay, it would arrive maybe the first week of April.)
A total of 4.5 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses could arrive by May, the World Health Organization (WHO) previously said.
Duque also said that the need to use all AstraZeneca doses in the Philippines is urgent because of the vaccines' relatively short shelf life of three months.
Galvez added that WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe had advised the Philippine government to distribute all AstraZeneca vaccine doses on hand to avoid a delay in future shipments.
"Ma-expedite na po lahat, sabi niya. Kasi kapag 'di po naubos 'yun, baka ma-delay 'yung second tranche," Galvez said.
(He said to expedite the distribution of all doses. Because if we don't finish them, the second tranche could get delayed.)
Duque added that Abeyasinghe gave an assurance to have the next batch of AstraZeneca vaccines delivered on time.
"According to the WHO country representative, he will write a letter to reassure us that the next batch will really come. And from there, we will use the second dose," Duque said.
AstraZeneca's vaccine, the cheapest to be developed and launched at volume since the pandemic began, is taken in two doses, the second one administered 12 weeks after the recipient took the first shot.
Aside from the nearly one million COVID-19 vaccine doses from COVAX, Galvez said that the Philippines is also expected to receive 1.4 million jabs from Chinese drug manufacturer Sinovac this month.
This includes the additional 400,000 doses donated by the Chinese government and one million doses to be procured by the government. – Rappler.com