Philippines among countries to receive US surplus vaccines

The Philippines will be among the countries that will receive donated vaccines from the United States’ surplus supply of shots, Philippine Ambassador the US Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez said on Friday, May 28. 

Romualdez said the donation is part of US President Joe Biden’s earlier pledge to have some 80 million vaccines delivered overseas by the end of June as part of its strategy to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The 80 million doses include 60 million AstraZeneca vaccines that have not received emergency approval in the US, as well as 20 million more doses of Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the countries’ stockpile. 

“It is part of the help they are giving to allies like the Philippines and other countries that really need it (vaccines) also but the White House told me that the Philippines will be part of the first batch to whom they will deliver to,” Romualdez said in a mix of English and Filipino during an interview with TeleRadyo. 

Romualdez said he has yet to receive specific details on the number of doses the Philippines could expect and the exact date this may be shipped, but that the White House wanted vaccines delivered “as soon as possible.” 

“What was relayed to me – which they just decided today that they’re going to spread it out – I asked 'How soon do you think it will be?’ They said, ‘As soon as possible,’ so I assume it won’t take longer than a month, plus they’re using  many of their military planes to start delivering this out to many countries that need it,” Romualdez said. 

Gayle Smith, coordinator of the US State Department Global COVID Response and Health Security had told reporters in a briefing the previous week that the US wanted the doses shipped within six weeks or by the end of June. 

“The time period that was referenced has to do with the need to actually have those vaccines in hand, figure out the distribution, but also because on the AstraZeneca 60 million doses, we need FDA (Food and Drug Administration) clearance before those move in order to ensure that they are fully safe,” Smith said. 

Oldest ally

In past years, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had repeatedly lashed out at America and threatened to cut ties with its oldest ally.  In late 2020, he had dangled the two countries’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) for US-made vaccines, threatening to boot out US troops if Washington failed to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to the country.

The VFA – which has remained in limbo since Duterte unilaterally terminated it in June 2020 and twice suspended its abrogation – is now up for his review and approval after months of negotiations

So far, the Philippines has received about 2.2 million donated vaccines from the COVAX global facility, and 1 million Sinovac doses from China. Duterte had earlier expressed the Philippines “great debt” to China for vaccines. 

The US is the biggest COVAX donor.

Asked if the US’ decision to share vaccines with the Philippines could help smoothen decades-old ties rocked by Duterte, Romualdez said that the country’s relations with the US stood firm beyond any passing administration. 

“One thing (is) for sure, our relationship with the United States – no matter the administration currently here in the United States and the Philippines – has always been a warm kind of relationship. We have been with one another for a long time, we are celebrating…75 years of our diplomatic relations and one thing that is really significant is our people-to-people ties,” he said. 

Biden, in voicing the US pledge to share vaccines with other countries, earlier described donating its surplus stock to others as being “the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do, it's the strong thing to do."

"We will not use our vaccines to secure favors from other countries,” Biden said. – 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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