First PH deliveries of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines in May or June, says envoy

The 20 million doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines could arrive in the Philippines as early as end of May or early June, according to Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez.

“We’re hoping that we will have the first deliveries by either end of May or early part of June. That's our target,” said Romualdez on Friday, March 5, during a Laging Handa virtual public briefing.

The Moderna doses will arrive in batches, added the Ambassador.

This timeline is earlier than the previously announced possible arrival of Moderna vaccines in the 3rd quarter of the year, the months of July to September.

The government, in partnership with the private sector, and financed by the World Bank, has signed an agreement with Moderna pharmaceutical firm to secure 20 million doses for the country which will be divided among private companies, national government, and local governments.

"Almost half of that will go to the private sector and their employees... and then the other half will go to our health workers and the rest of the Filipinos that will be receiving the Moderna through the LGUs and other entities in the Philippines," said the envoy.

Pfizer vaccines arriving in 'next couple of weeks'

Romualdez also gave updates on other vaccine deals that the country has with the COVAX Facility and other American pharmaceutical companies.

COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access or COVAX, is a global initiative whose objective is the equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. Spearheading this effort are Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and others.

The 117,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines, secured through the COVAX Facility, will arrive in the "next couple of weeks," said Romualdez.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr had earlier said he was expecting the Pfizer doses to reach the Philippines sometime in the 2nd quarter of the year.

According to Romualdez, the US has doubled up its production of the vaccines as per President Joe Biden’s goal to vaccinate all Americans by the end of May.

Romualdez expected the vaccines from the US to start arriving no later than June of this year all the way down to the 3rd and 4th quarter of this year.

Johnson and Johnson (Janssen Pharmaceuticals) has also committed to provide 6 million doses to the Philippines but has yet to give a definite date of the delivery because of the production priority in America.

"It can't be that only one country is COVID-free. It should be the whole world and they are aware of that and the fact that they are backing the WHO (World Health Organization) and also contributing to the COVAX Facility will give access to most countries, especially the Philippines," said Romualdez in a mix of English and Filipino.

Galvez is set to fly to India on March 9 to secure another deal with an American vaccine-maker, Novavax, from which the Philippines expected 30 million doses.

Romualdez said the Philippines was not being left behind by other countries in terms of vaccination rollout. 

“It takes time but we’re not far behind as people think. We are not far behind from many countries. Truth be told, we’re actually better off than many countries because technically we’re only [in] the first week of March when we’ve already started our vaccination program,” said the Ambassador.

The Philippines is actually one of the last countries in Southeast Asia to receive vaccines and begin administering shots to its citizens. This despite it being the country with the second highest tally of COVID-19 cases in the region. – Rappler.com

Gab Dumalag is a Rappler intern. She is studying journalism at the University of the Philippines - Diliman. This article was vetted by a Rappler reporter and editor before publication.