US begins shipping 3 million J&J vaccine shots to the Philippines

The United States has started shipping 3.2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine to the Philippines, the White House said on Thursday, July 15, as Washington continues its coronavirus diplomacy by sharing doses with developing nations.

"We are beginning to ship over 3.2 million doses of J&J to the Philippines today," White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said on Twitter.

The Philippines so far has administered at least 13,442,299 doses, enough for just 6.2% of its population based on a two-dose regiment, according to Reuters data. It has registered 1,485,457 infections and 26,232 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.

J&J's one-shot vaccine does not have to be refrigerated as some others do, potentially easing its distribution. A survey earlier this month showed the number of Filipinos willing to get inoculated has also grown in recent months as safety concerns ebbed.

Much of Asia is grappling with spikes in COVID-19 cases amid new variants and vaccine supply constraints, and the World Bank on Thursday trimmed its economic growth forecasts for the East Asia and Pacific region, excluding China.

Philippine economic officials have said the pandemic's impact will be transitory and that the economy is poised for a rebound.

The country is still grappling with other measures to curb infections, recently moving to allow children to go outdoors while also banning travelers from Indonesia, where a new variant has taken hold.

The US-donated vaccines are part of the Biden administration's support for COVAX, the global vaccine sharing program with the World Health Organization to help distribute vaccines to poorer countries.

Haiti, Moldova, Costa Rica, and other countries have also received doses from the United States in recent days.

WHO lauds US

The first shipment of 1,606,600 doses of J&J vaccine arrived in the Philippines on Friday afternoon, July 16. Another 1.6 million doses are expected to arrive on Saturday, July 17. 

WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe lauded US "for heeding the global call for vaccine equity, and for its continuing partnership with the Philippines to save lives and end the pandemic."

"Vaccines are lifesaving tools, but with a limited supply, prioritizing the most vulnerable is the most optimal way to save lives. We need to ramp up our efforts in vaccinating the elderly (A2) and other vulnerable groups (A3)," Abeyasinghe said. – with a report from Bonz Magsambol/Rappler.com