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Is PH immunization program too slow? Senator says at current pace it will take 12 years to complete

By CHUCK SMITH Published Mar 15, 2021 4:36 am Updated Mar 15, 2021 6:50 am

It’s been over three weeks since the Philippines received its first COVID-19 vaccine delivery from  China's Sinovac Biotech and Oxford/AstraZeneca.

And yet, the government has not released a full tally or a comprehensive tracking on how it distributed (or plans to distribute) the vaccines the country has received.

Beverly Ho, director of the DOH’s Health Promotion Bureau, said during a press briefing on Monday, March 15 that the Philippine government has so far received a total of 1,125,600 COVID-19 vaccine doses. She added that they have already administered 193,492 COVID-19 doses as of today.

This begs the question: is the Philippine government’s vaccination program too slow?

During a press briefing on Monday, March 15, Roque said the vaccine rollout could be faster; however, supply is currently limited.

“Sa akin, pwede sigurong pabilisan pa. Pero let me explain na limitado naman ang bakuna natin ngayon. At ang ating binabakuhan ngayon ay ating mga medical frontliners. E nagkaroon nga ng EUA yung Sinovac na not recommended for health workers, kaya binigyan natin ng option ang mga health workers,” he said.

Roque added, “Isa yan sa dahilan bakit medyo mabagal talaga ang rollout, kasi yung mga umayaw ng Sinovac kailangan balikan at i-offer ulit ng AstraZeneca.”

He further explained that the process will become faster once the country gets more vaccine supplies. 

“Kapag dumami na ulit ang supply natin at binuhos na natin yan, dinistribute na natin yan sa pamamagitan ng lokal na pamahalaan at wala na pong pilian, mas mapapabilis ang proseso,” he said.

Roque also said the government will launch a vaccine tracker later this week.

Roque’s statements came after Senators Panfilo Lacson and Joel Villanueva criticized the government’s vaccination drive.

“There’s a need to accelerate vaccine rollout because our economic recovery and the return of jobs lost to the pandemic depend on it,” Villanueva said in a press release. “If this is the pace of vaccination, it will take about 44 years to hit our target of 50 to 70 million of our people.”

Meanwhile, Lacson said in a statement: “If we do not improve on this pace, and let’s all hope we will accelerate, we will finish vaccinating the 70 percent targeted population to achieve herd immunity in 11 years and 8 months or 2033.”

In a statement released today, March 15, the Department of Health (DOH) and the National Task Force Against COVID-19 (NTF) said the vaccination pace will pick up by the second quarter of 2021, once more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrives in the country.

Meanwhile, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel on March 10 that the city purchased AstraZeneca vaccine through the national government, which they expect to receive any time between June and September.

“Now, we are expecting that the national government did their part na dumating ang bakuna sa buwan na ito para mai-rollout naman yung kanilang nabili para sa general public,” Moreno said.

The DOH and NTF said that the current pace of vaccination for healthcare workers is expected to “rise exponentially” once the government receives the bulk of its procured doses and the vaccines from the COVAX Facility.

“It is not logical to compute performance evaluation from the start of the mini rollout. We will be able to get our benchmark vaccination rate when we start our massive community roll out by May and June,” vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said in the statement.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the vaccination of healthcare workers is “steadily paced” to make sure hospitals are “fully operational” and their hospital staff “sufficient at any given time.” This, he said, is in anticipation of “local and systemic reactions that can occur as a result of vaccination and may render some vaccines unable to report to work, hospitals needed to spread out the vaccination of their staff.”

He added, “Hindi pwedeng lahat sabay-sabay because we need to ensure na meron tayong sapat na bilang ng medical frontliners para magpatakbo ng ospital,” Sec. Duque said.”

Galvez said that they have already deployed 90 percent of the available COVID-19 doses.

According to the Philippine Star, Galvez maintained that the country’s immunization program is on track. The report added that Galvez believes that the target of inoculating 70 percent of the country’s population will be reached within the year.

The country is currently experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. The Philippines recorded 5,000 additional cases on Saturday, March 13, the highest daily rise since Aug. 26, 2020, when the country recorded 5,277 cases.

On March 7, the Octa Research warned that the country may see 6,000 new COVID-19 cases daily by the end of the month if the current surge is not managed.

Banner photo by AFP/Dibyangshu Sarkar