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COVID-19 vaccination drive may start next week

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

FILIPINOS on the government’s priority list may get vaccinated against the coronavirus as early as next week as the government takes delivery of 600,000 vaccine doses donated by China on Sunday, according to the presidential palace.

“Three more nights and the vaccines will be here,” presidential spokesman Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing on Thursday.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte will welcome the arrival of the vaccines made by Chinese drug maker Sinovac Biotech Ltd., he said.

Sinovac General Manager Helen Yang on Wednesday said the vaccines were being prepared for delivery to the Philippines.

Of the initial batch of vaccines, about 100,000 will be used to immunize soldiers. The rest will be used to inoculate people on the priority list including medical frontliners.

The Department of Health (DoH) and the National Task Force Against the Coronavirus said in a joint statement details of how the vaccines would be distributed were still being discussed. An inter-agency task force would approve the plan, they added.

Mr. Roque said the President had used Philippine friendship with China to get early access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Sinovac’s CoronaVac is one of the frontrunners in the vaccine race, along with those developed by British drug maker AstraZeneca Plc, Russia’s Gameleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology, and America’s Pfizer, Inc., Moderna, Inc. and  Johnson & Johnson.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 2,269 coronavirus infections on Thursday, bringing the total to 568,680.

The death toll rose by 72 to 12,201, while recoveries increased by 738 to 524,042, it said in a bulletin.

There were 32,437 active cases, 88.5% of which were mild, 6.1% did not show symptoms, 2.4% were critical, 2.3% were severe, and 0.78% were moderate.

The Health department said eight duplicates and one case found to be negative had been removed from the tally. Twelve recovered cases were reclassified as deaths.

Three laboratories failed to submit their data on Feb. 24, it said.

More than 8.1 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Feb. 23, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened more than 113.1 million and killed more than 2.5 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization.

More than 88.7 million people have recovered, it said.

Senator Francis N. Pangilinan earlier urged the Health department to cancel the purchase of Sinovac’s CoronaVac, which he said is six times more expensive than AstraZeneca and less effective.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director General Rolando Enrique D. Domingo earlier said the Chinese shot was not recommended for medical frontliners since its efficacy only reached 50.4% for their class based on trials in Turkey.

The efficacy of Sinovac ranged from 65.3% to 91.2% in patients aged 18 to 59 years based on trials in Indonesia. AstraZeneca has a 70% efficacy based on trials in Brazil and the United Kingdom.

Health professionals are not barred from taking Sinovac vaccines, Mr. Roque said, citing Mr. Domingo. “If they want it, they can have it. They won’t be taken out of the priority list.”

At the same briefing, Philippine General Hospital Director Gap Legazpi said their medical workers were ready to receive the Sinovac shots.

“Whatever vaccine comes, we should welcome it because it will make a difference in helping control the spread of this infection,” he said.

“We are not the last country to receive the vaccine,” Mr. Roque said. He added that had the government insisted on buying Western brands, it would have waited longer.

Vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. this week said only 5.1 million vaccine doses would arrive in the country this quarter.

Mr. Galvez earlier said the Philippines had secured about 10 million doses of coronavirus vaccines under a global initiative for equal access, most of which were from  AstraZeneca

and Pfizer.

The country, however, had a rough time dealing with drug makers seeking blanket protection from potential lawsuits, he said.

The Senate and House of Representatives have passed a bill creating a 500-million indemnification fund that will be used to compensate patients who may get sick from vaccines.

Under the measure, manufacturers won’t be liable for vaccine-related injuries. The National Government will assume responsibility for the emergency use of the vaccines.

The bill has been submitted for Mr. Duterte’s signature.

Mr. Galvez earlier said the lack of an indemnification plan had hindered the delivery of the first 117,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines under the Word Health Organization-led COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility.

About 24.1 million vaccine doses would come in the second quarter, Mr. Galvez told an online news briefing on Wednesday night. More vaccines under the COVAX facility will arrive in the second half, he added.

Mr. Galvez said the country was in talks with the United Kingdom, China, Russia and India to get more vaccine shots and ensure early delivery.

The country this week had a marathon meeting with Moderna to finetune the “language of the supply agreement,” he said.

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