4.5 million more AstraZeneca doses to arrive in PH by May 2021 – WHO

The Philippines can expect up to 4.5 million more doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine to arrive from the global COVAX Facility before the end of May, according to World Health Organization (WHO) Representative to the Philippines Rabindra Abeyasinghe.

He said deliveries of succeeding doses are expected to take place in April and May, following the initial delivery of 525,600 doses to the Philippines on March 4 and 7.

"We are looking at up to 4.5 million doses which will come during April and May. So let's continue to use what we have rationally and impactfully and take care to follow the protocols as we wait for new deliveries," Abeyasinghe said in a virtual forum on Tuesday, March 9.

Why this matters

With surging coronavirus cases in the Philippines, experts have underscored that it is essential to vaccinate all of the country's 1.8 million healthcare workers as soon as possible.

Assuming most vaccines available require 2 doses per person, this would entail securing about 4 million doses for the health workers.

But the Philippines currently does not have enough doses for the priority group.

So far, the country has roughly over 1 million doses of vaccines developed by Sinovac and AstraZeneca which were donated by China and the WHO through COVAX, respectively.

Asked if the WHO would fast-track the delivery of more vaccines, Abeyasinghe said there is no information yet on the possibility of earlier deliveries.

Global supply remains extremely limited and over 190 countries aside from the Philippines are waiting for deliveries from COVAX.

"The Philippines, because of its assessment of increased transmission and increased deaths, was prioritized as one of the first countries to receive quite a large number of doses," Abeyasinghe said.

"To my knowledge, I think now we have delivered the first round of vaccines to more than 40 countries across the world, but we need to ensure that at least each of those [190] countries receives one shipment before we start considering second shipments."

He added: "We need to recognize vaccine supply has been a challenge globally. The manufacturers are trying to keep up with the demand, but it is extremely difficult and many countries are seeing even larger numbers of cases and larger numbers of deaths."

Not helpless

Abeyasinghe said the WHO and the Department of Health (DOH) are working with COVAX to see how deliveries can be prioritized. But he also stressed there are measures that can be practiced in the meantime to combat increasing infections, such as following health protocols.

Along with the DOH, the WHO said that despite the presence of new and more infectious variants of COVID-19, people can still avoid getting sick by properly wearing face masks and face shields, observing physical distancing, and avoiding risky activities where the virus may thrive.

"In the interim, it is necessary that we use the available vaccines in the most impactful manner and we do everything within our means – which we have been doing for the past 13, 15 months – to suppress the transmission," Abeyasinghe said.

In the past few weeks, the DOH has observed a marked increase in cases, while data monitored by Rappler showed increasing hospital admissions since February 21.

Experts studying the pandemic also noted that the current spike in cases is faster than the previous surge in July to August 2020. If not managed properly, they added, nationwide cases may increase to up to 6,000 daily by March 31.

The total number of cases in the country reached 600,428 on Tuesday, with 41,822 of them active.

As of March 7, the Philippines has vaccinated 35,669 health workers across 169 sites. – 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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