Philippines receives 3 million US-donated Moderna doses

The Philippines received another 3 million Moderna vaccine doses donated by the United States government on Tuesday, August 3, as health officials sought a greater supply of vaccines in the race to contain the spread of the highly-transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant.

The delivery of 3,000,060 Moderna doses follows the US’ earlier donation of 3.2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine, which arrived in the country mid-July. The arrival of Moderna doses brings the total number of vaccines donated by the US to some 6 million doses – the largest donation so far from a single country to the Philippines. 

President Rodrigo Duterte had welcomed the arrival of the vaccines at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport shortly past 4 pm, a first for the Philippine leader who had graced the arrival of vaccine donations from different countries, but not the US. 

The President was joined by US embassy Chargé d’Affaires John Law, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., among others.

“I wish to thank the United States for the generosity in sharing various COVID-19 assistance to the Philippines…. All of these have helped, definitely will continue to help the Filipino people,” Duterte said, adding cooperation between the two countries in combating the pandemic had highlighted their “strong and deep friendship.”

Earlier, Duterte admitted it was Washington’s donations of COVID-19 vaccines that pushed him to ultimately keep the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) after repeatedly threatening to scrap it in the past year. Diplomats and security officials had been unanimous in backing the VFA, saying the country needs it to improve its security posture.

On Tuesday, Duterte said vaccines delivered by the US through the COVAX global sharing facility will be given to marginalized sectors and vulnerable populations. 

The Chief Executive said the government would also try to use vaccines from the US to “entice” individuals who were still hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Public surveys had shown vaccines from the US, particularly Pfizer and Moderna, were among the top 3 preferred brands among Filipino adults, following China’s Sinovac. 

“These vaccines which America donated carry with it the sentiment that it’d be given to the least of those Filipinos who cannot afford. Rest assured that everybody will follow that directive,” Duterte said. 

The latest shipment of vaccines is expected to boost the country’s rollout at a critical point in the pandemic where health officials want to maintain unhampered vaccination activities and increase coverage of high-risk groups. 

As infections and hospital admissions climb in Metro Manila, the epicenter of the local epidemic, local officials had requested the national government to provide them with at least 4 million doses to ramp up vaccinations in the next two weeks. 

In previous months, local governments have had to occasionally shut down several vaccination sites due to erratic and limited vaccine supplies and bad weather. 

US vows to share vaccines 

The US-donated vaccines are part of the Biden administration's support for COVAX, as well as countries grappling with the pandemic and little access to vaccine supply. President Joe Biden earlier committed to share 80 million American-made vaccines around the world as part Washington's response to the health crisis and as concerns grow over the disparity in vaccinations seen in advanced countries and the developing world.

The US had announced the Philippines was among countries which will directly receive vaccine doses from the US government, aside from additional donations shipped through the COVAX global vaccine sharing facility. 

Aside from the US, the Philippines received 1.1 million AstraZeneca doses from Japan, 1 million Sinovac doses from China, and 415,040 AstraZeneca doses from the United Kingdom

Five months since the Philippines launched its immunization drive on March 1, around 10.74%  of the country's population have received the first of two doses. Those who are fully vaccinated represent around 8.5% of the population, as of August 2. –with reports from Pia Ranada/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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