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Philippines may start vaccination drive next week

THE PHILIPPINES may start inoculating Filipinos against the coronavirus next week as it takes delivery of vaccine orders, according to the presidential palace.

“Our government is prepared to start the vaccination drive on Feb. 15,” presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque told an online news briefing in Filipino on Monday.

The government expects to vaccinate as many as 70 million citizens against the coronavirus by yearend, vaccine czar Carlito A. Galvez, Jr. said on Sunday.

The country will get about 10 million doses of vaccines under a global initiative for equal access this quarter, including 117,000 doses from Pfizer, Inc. that might arrive this month, he said.

The government seeks to inoculate 70 to 80 million Filipino adults to achieve herd immunity, he added.

The vaccine doesn’t need to be given to all Filipinos based on herd immunity, when a large portion of the population becomes immune to the disease, making its spread unlikely.

In case of supply shortage, the vaccination target might have to be delayed until the middle of next year, Mr. Galvez said.

The country has signed term sheets with five drug makers covering more than 108 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

The presidential palace last week said the government would try to order 178 million doses of coronavirus vaccines so it can inoculate more than 90 million Filipinos this year.

The government is in talks for more than 100 million doses with various drug makers worth $1.2 billion and about 40 million doses under the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access facility of the World Health Organization (WHO) worth $84 million, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said last week.

“It’s just a matter of when the plane carrying the Pfizer vaccines will actually land at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport,” Mr. Roque said.

Meanwhile, Metro Manila mayors want the government to keep the region under a general lockdown even after the first batch of vaccines are given out, Navotas Mayor Tobias M. Tiangco said at the same briefing.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 1,690 coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to 538,995.

The death toll rose by 52 to 11,231, while recoveries increased by 23 to 499,772, it said in a bulletin.

There were 27,992 active cases, 88.5% were mild, 5.4% did not show symptoms, 2.8% were critical, 2.7% were severe and 0.63% were moderate.

DoH said four duplicates had been removed from the tally, while 46 recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Five laboratories failed to submit their data on Feb. 7.

More than 7.6 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Feb. 6, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened about 106.7 million and killed more than 2.3 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization.

About 78.4 million people have recovered, it said.

Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire noted that of the 25 people who got a more contagious coronavirus strain, one had died, two were active cases, while the rest had recovered.

She said 1,227 samples had been sequenced to other coronavirus strains.

Health authorities could now analyze 720 samples this week after more reagents — substances used for virus analysis — arrived, she added.

Ms. Vergeire early this month said the global shortage of reagents had delayed local genome sequencing.

The Philippine Genome Center (PGC) used a smaller machine that could only test 48 samples a week, down from 750.

DoH on Friday said eight more people had tested positive for the more contagious coronavirus strain, bringing the total in the Philippines to 25.

Three of the eight new cases were from Bontoc, Mountain Province in the country’s north. The Health department said case investigation, contact and back tracing were under way.

Meanwhile, an inter-agency task force might discuss an appeal to allow increased capacity for religious gatherings at its meeting this week, Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said in a Viber group message. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Bianca Angelica D. Añago

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