Philippines not spared from vaccine shortage
MANILA – Just like many countries, the Philippines has not been spared from vaccine shortage. This was how WHO country representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, portrayed the important role of vaccine supply in the country’s vaccine rollout.
Speaking at the midday press briefing at Malacañang Palace hosted by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Dr. Abeyasinghe said as the global community continue to face vaccine shortage which has been aggravated by the recent increase in COVID-19 cases worldwide.
“For example, the Serum Institute of India which was exporting large quantities of vaccines to COVAX, based on a decision by the Indian government to protect the Indian population because of the surge of cases, has decided that they will not be exporting vaccines till the end of this month,” Dr. Abeyasinghe said.
The temporary ban applies to all Indian vaccine manufacturers. He added they also see similar restrictions in other development countries and groups of countries.
“So, when that happens, accessing vaccines that meet the requirements from safety and efficacy becomes a challenge,” he explained.
He said reassuringly that the WHO together with many manufacturers try to see how they can collectively address the demand. He candidly said even planned deliveries are delayed and scaled down due to the immediate shortage globally.
“As you heard by (WHO) Director General repeatedly saying that many countries are in a rush to vaccinate all of their population when we are trying to have a more equitable distribution where we can provide protection to the most vulnerable and the most at risk groups,” he explained.
They at the WHO have been encouraging countries that have excess vaccines to share because they believe that within the third and fourth quarter of 2021, there will be a significant increase in manufacturing capacity as newer vaccines will be added to the COVAX portfolio.
“As these vaccines become available, we are optimistic that we can still deliver on the vaccines required to protect the 20% of the population that is most vulnerable through the COVAX,” he explained.
However, the same restrictions also apply to bilateral agreements that countries signed with manufacturers as the challenge in accessing vaccines remain. He said in the Philippines, the WHO continues to work with the National Task Force and the Department of Health to maximize the currently available vaccines by prioritizing health care workers in areas where they see a surge by prioritizing the elderly and people with comorbidities in areas where COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
He underscored the need to protect healthcare workers “because the virus is spreading all over.”
Dr. Abeyasinghe said should the government consider redeploying health workers from areas with low transmissions, there is a need to ensure that all health workers, frontline workers are vaccinated for them to attend to their patients.
“When health workers are protected, we not only minimize the infection among health care workers, we have adequate staff to care for the sick and reduce the deaths even among the severe cases. Vaccines remain a powerful tool and we need to optimize their use so that we maximize the impact as this is the responsibility that we share as humanity,” he concluded.
To date, the Philippines has vaccinated 795,320 Filipinos composed of 765,871 frontline health care workers, 16,121 senior citizens and 13,288 individuals with comorbidity. The government claimed they have utilized some 2,669 vaccination centers nationwide, according to figures cited during the midday briefing. (Melo M. Acuña)
Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Country Representative to the Philippines. (Screen grab from Malacanang Press Briefing/Melo M. Acuna)