Long way to go: Months after rollout, PH reaches 1M full vaccinations

Since launching its mass coronavirus vaccine campaign on March 1, the Philippines tallied over one million people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Latest data from the Department of Health (DOH) released on Thursday, May 27, showed that as of May 25, 1,029,061 people have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for nearly 1% of the Philippines’ population. 

The number of people who have received at least one of two doses stood at 3,466,314, covering about 3.19% of the population. 

The vaccination of at least one million individuals is a significant point in the country’s vaccination program that has been hampered by delays in paperwork and vaccine shipments, as well as erratic delivery timeliness and uncertain vaccine supplies. 

Nearly 3 months after the government started vaccinating Filipinos against the disease, the Philippines stood as the second to the last country in Southeast Asia in terms of the percentage of the population that has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Data as of May 25 showed that about 4.1 doses per 100 people were administered in the country. 

The number of total vaccinations is still far from the government’s goal of vaccinating 70 million Filipinos within the year – a target necessary to reach herd immunity. Pandemic and health officials said this would be largely dependent on whether the volume of vaccines expected to be delivered to the country within the year would push through as scheduled. 

After receiving its first shipment of vaccines donated by China on February 28, the Philippines has received a total of about 8.2 million vaccines doses as of May. 

These include AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines from the COVAX global facility and  initial shipments of vaccines developed by Sinovac and the Gamaleya Research Institute.

The COVAX Facility – an initiative co-led by Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization (WHO), and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) – aims to ensure the equitable distribution of limited shots, along with access by developing nations to affordable vaccines.

Based on agreements signed, the Philippines is expecting to receive at least 157 million vaccine doses developed by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Moderna, Novavax, Gamaleya Research Institute, and Johnson & Johnson in 2021. With COVAX, supplies may reach some 190 million doses. 

'Population protections' vs herd immunity

In a virtual briefing on Wednesday, May 26, Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje said the government was shifting to a more urgent goal of “population protection through mass immunization” as opposed to attaining herd immunity by the end of the year. 

Cabotaje said the movement was based on the Department of Health’s assessment of obstacles that could complicate the goal to achieve herd immunity, including erratic vaccine supply, the emergence of variants of concern, as well as the length of immunity from vaccines, which remains unknown. 

Aside from this, the government is also facing the challenge of combatting rising vaccine hesitancy among Filipinos. Recent public surveys have shown that months into the rollout of vaccines, only 3 in 10 Filipinos were willing to get vaccinated, while just as many were still unsure or unwilling.

Under “population protection,” the government instead wants to ensure a decrease in hospitalizations and deaths caused by COVID-19. Cabotaje said the government is also targeting to vaccinate some 50 million to 60 million Filipinos, if not 70 million.

“Our term now is really ‘population protection.’ We prevent hospitalization. We prevent and minimize deaths by prioritizing. And the bigger the population that is vaccinated, we have population protection so less chances of infections spreading. If infections spread, this will be very mild,” Cabotaje 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.