Hospitals get priority for first vaccine doses arriving in February

When a COVID-19 vaccine finally arrives in the Philippines, initial doses will be prioritized for health workers working in hospitals treating coronavirus patients. 

Vaccine czar Carlito Gavlez Jr said hospital workers in high-risk geographical areas would be among the first to be vaccinated against the disease since it was necessary to ensure essential health services continued while the pandemic was still ongoing. 

“Our hospitals will be first,” Galvez said when asked by Senator Nancy Binay where first doses of a vaccine will go.

Which vaccine will be given?

On February 3, Galvez listed the Philippine General Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines, East Avenue Medical Center, and Dr Jose N Rodriguez Hospital specifically will receive 117,000 doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine supplied by the COVAX facility.

After these hospitals located in Metro Manila – the epicenter of the pandemic in the Philippines – COVID-19 referral hospitals in Cebu City and Davao City will follow.

Another 5 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine are expected to arrive in the first half of 2021.

Considering the status of negotiations and regulatory requirements, Galvez earlier said the first vaccines that could arrive in the Philippines include those being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, Sinovac, or AstraZeneca.

Among these options, Galvez said Pfizer’s vaccine may be the first to arrive by the end of February through allocations from the GAVI COVAX facility. COVAX officials are currently finalizing a list of low-income countries to be given doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for an early rollout. 

Galvez said a specific amount of doses to arrive were not yet available as arrangements were still being finalized, though shipments may contain some 50,000 doses for 25,000 health workers.

Unlike other vaccines being eyed by the government, only Pfizer and AstraZeneca have so far secured an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

The Pfizer vaccine was the first to be granted emergency approval after the FDA said its review process determined the Pfizer vaccine with an efficacy of 95% met all conditions for an EUA and that that the “benefit of using the vaccine outweighs its known and potential risks.”

As for Sinovac, Galvez said the government signed a term sheet that saw the company commit to supply with country with 25 million doses, though this will be contingent on whether it secured FDA emergency approval.

Without clearance from the FDA, Sinovac cannot be used in the Philippines. The company earlier submitted an application for an EUA, but FDA Director General Eric Domingo said the agency was waiting for phase 3 trial results before moving on to a full review.

Cold storage preparation

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the government was preparing ultracold storage facilities needed to keep Pfizer’s vaccines stable once they arrive in the country. 

Duque said the agency purchased 10 ultralow freezers for this, while officials were also in talks with several logistics and cold storage facilities that have the facilities and extensive experience to handle the vaccine. This included Orca, Royal Cargo, Maersk, LBC, Metro Pacific, and Zuellig Pharma Corporation, among others.

Pfizer officials earlier explained that while doses may last up to 6 months in ultra-low temperature freezers, they can be stored up to 30 days in thermal shippers the company designed, and up to 5 days in normal refrigerated 2-8°C conditions – posing a challenge for the Philippines’ health system. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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