Gov’t eyes delivery of 24M coronavirus vaccines this month

THE PHILIPPINES is set to take delivery of 24 million doses of coronavirus vaccines this week, the country’s vaccine chief said.

Vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. said the deliveries this week are more than the usual 7 million doses that the state gets in a week.

The shipments include vaccines bought by the government and donated by various countries, he told a taped Cabinet meeting on Monday night.

He said earlier in the day about 52 million doses of vaccines would arrive this month.

The Philippines on Monday night received 1.53 million doses of the single-dose vaccine made by Janssen Biotech, Inc., Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles separately told a news briefing.

The latest shipment of Janssen vaccines was donated by The Netherlands, he said. Two more batches from Amsterdam are set to arrive this month.

Mr. Nograles said the country also received 859, 950 doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer, Inc. on Monday night.

“It bears stressing that we are now able to talk about booster shots because we have an ample supply of vaccines,” he said.

The country is set to hold a three-day vaccination drive on Dec. 15 to 17, as it aims to fully vaccinate more than 50 million Filipinos by yearend.

Mr. Nograles said the vaccination event, which seeks to inject at least 7 million people, would be moved to Dec. 20 to 22 in regions expected to be hit by a typhoon.

These include Bicol, Mimaropa, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Davao, Soccsksargen, Caraga and Bangsamoro.

The decision was made to keep people safe, the National Vaccination Operations Center said in an advisory. Other parts of the country will proceed with the drive on Dec. 15 to 17.

Mr. Nograles expressed confidence that the government would achieve its target of fully vaccinating at least 54 million people before the year ends.

The Philippines had already given out 97.24 million doses of coronavirus vaccines as of Dec. 13, Mr. Nograles said. Of these, 37.9 million were second doses. The government had injected 809,550 booster shots, he added.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 235 coronavirus infections on Monday — the lowest daily tally since May 23 last year — bringing the total to 2.84 million.

The death toll hit 50,351 after 10 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 780 to 2.78 million, it said in a bulletin.

There were 10,526 active cases, 659 of which did not show symptoms, 4,104 were mild, 3,502 were moderate, 1,868 were severe and 393 were critical.

The agency said 97% of the reported cases occurred from Dec. 1 to 14. The top regions with cases in the past two weeks were Metro Manila with 53 cases, Calabarzon with 23 cases and Western Visayas with 20 cases.

It said 90% of the deaths occurred in December and 10% in October.

DoH said five duplicates had been removed from the tally, four of which were reclassified as recoveries, while three recoveries were relisted as deaths.

It added that 165 patients had tested negative and were removed from the tally. Of these, 161 were recoveries. Four laboratories did not operate on Dec. 12, while eight failed to submit data.

The agency said 23% of intensive care units in the Philippines were occupied, while the rate for Metro Manila was 24%.

Meanwhile, the Philippines might face a fresh surge in coronavirus infections once the Omicron variant from South Africa enters the country, according the OCTA Research Group.

“If the Omicron enters the Philippines, a serious surge of infections is likely,” OCTA fellow Fredegusto “Guido” P. David said, noting that South Africa reported 37,875 new coronavirus cases on Dec. 12 alone due to the highly mutated variant.

Experts have said the Omicron variant could pose a greater threat than the Delta strain.

Health Director Alethea de Guzman said Omicron might be more than 10 times more contagious than the original variant and 4.2 times more transmissible than Delta.

She said Omicron might be twice more likely to resist existing vaccines than Delta. “But evidence suggests that our vaccines remain effective.”

She said most Omicron patients worldwide show mild symptoms, but it was not clear whether the variant is associated with more severe diseases. There were 11,703 cases of the Omicron variant as of Dec. 14, she added.

Philippine authorities were monitoring areas with rising cases, as the country prepares for the entry of the heavily mutated variant, she said. Health experts have said it is only a matter of time before it enters the country.

Ms. De Guzman said all regions in the country were now classified as “minimal risk” from the coronavirus.

All regions except Bicol in central Philippines and Soccsksargen in the south showed a decline in infections in the past week, she said.

Active cases might decline to 1,766 by Jan. 31 if Filipinos continue to follow health protocols and may otherwise increase to 9,388, Ms. De Guzman said.

In the capital region, active cases might decline to 148 by Jan. 31 and may increase to 325 if health protocols were ignored, she added. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza