President Rodrigo Duterte said Wednesday he is not prepared to allow a less stringent quarantine and testing protocols for arriving overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), which could compromise the health of the people as the country continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a televised briefing Wednesday, the President said: “I cannot compromise. I am not ready for a compromise lalo na ngayon, ‘yung ibang siguro, yung rabies, rabies dyan pero ito talagang, as you have said, dapo rito, dapo roon, then you have the exponential problem now of how to take care of the Philippines.
Duterte convened the meeting with health experts to respond to the appeal of Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello to immediately test OFWs and reduce the number of quarantine days in hotels or isolation facilities down to nine days from 14.
“Talagang hirap na hirap sila. They are crying . . . We cannot close our eyes to the miseries of our OFWs,” Bello said.
In other developments:
* The Philippines will receive 500,000 more doses of government-procured CoronaVac vaccines on April 22, Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana announced Wednesday.
* Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Wednesday said the initial batch of 200,000 Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses that are due for delivery in the middle of June are intended for the Department of Foreign Affairs and the different Foreign Mission in the country.
* The Philippines will be able to receive and properly store Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines from Russia’s Gamaleya Institute, the Department of Health assured the public on Wednesday. Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said that an initial shipment of 20,000 doses will be arriving this week.
* The government is still awaiting some requirements of documents from Bharat Biotech of India before its COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin, will be allowed entry into the Philippines, a health official said Wednesday.
* The government has distributed more than 3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines of different brands, the DOH said in a statement. “100% of the available doses have been distributed, equating to 3,025,600 out of 3,025,600,” the DOH said.
In a statement posted on his official page, Sta. Romana said the Philippine Embassy in Beijing is now facilitating the shipment of the vaccines.
“A team from the Philippine Embassy in Beijing led by First Secretary Winston Almeda & Economic Section Attache Dada Katrina Aromin inspected the shipment of 500,000 vaccines produced by Sinovac on Monday, April 19, before they are brought to the airport for pickup by a Philippine Airlines plane,” he said.
The envoy also confirmed that another 500,000 vials are expected to arrive in Manila next week. The latest shipment is procured from China-based biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac.
“For the month of May, the plan is to purchase 1.5 million doses from Sinovac. As for the subsequent months, it will depend on IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force) but the plan will involve monthly deliveries for a total of 25 million by the end of the year,” he told the Philippine News Agency (PNA).
The arrival of the additional doses on April 22 would bring to 3,525,600 the number of coronavirus vaccines – CoronaVac and AstraZeneca – the Philippines have so far secured.
The first batch of procured CoronaVac vaccines arrived last March 29, amounting to one million doses. The second batch of 500,000 doses arrived last April 11.
Meanwhile, Locsin said of the Moderna vaccines on his Twitter account: “That’s DFA’s share; supposed to go to DFA staff and family and to Foreign Missions and all their staff. I’ve told that to the diplomatic corps repeatedly and proudly announced it in international forums.”
Locsin made the statement even if the Cambridge-based biotechnology firm Moderna has yet to secure an emergency use authorization for its vaccine from the Philippine Food and Drugs Administration.
On Wednesday, FDA Chief Rolando Enrique Domingo confirmed they are still waiting for the EUA application of Moderna with barely six weeks away from its target rollout in the Philippines. Locsin was surprised to learn that no EUA application has been submitted for Moderna.
"We already have a prepared storage and distribution system when it comes to the other vaccines that require this storage temperature. We have already prepared for that from the start,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing when asked about special preparations for Sputnik V’s storage requirements.
This will be followed by 480,000 doses from the same vaccine developer before the end of the month, Vergeire said.
Unlike Sinovac and AstraZeneca’s vaccines, which require only regular refrigerator temperature, Gamaleya Institute’s Sputnik V in liquid form needs to be stored at -18 degrees Celsius.
Sputnik V’s powdered form can be kept at the regular 2 to 8 degrees Celsius temperature, she said.
Vergeire noted that the vaccine has “technical requirements” the DOH needs to carefully follow since it comes in both liquid and powder form, which require different handling procedures.
The health official said the public that simulations have already been done by the logistics team to avoid any issues.
“The government is ready. The system is ready to receive these vaccines with this kind of requirement,” she said.
Besides Sputnik V, the Philippine government is also expecting hundreds of thousands of vaccines from Sinovac and Pfizer this April.
Covaxin was only granted a conditional emergency use authorization (EUA) because it has yet to submit documents such as a certificate of good manufacturing practice and a risk management plan, Vergeire said, during a press briefing.
Covaxin showed 81 percent efficacy in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infection in an interim analysis of data from a late-stage trial in India.
“The public should not worry because the Bharat Biotech has been given a conditional EUA),” Vergeire said.
“However, the Bharat Biotech cannot bring its vaccines into our country until the requirements are fully complied with,” she said.
Officials have earlier announced that Covaxin had secured an EUA from the Philippine FDA. Bharat Biotech filed its EUA application in January.
So far, the FDA has approved the emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Sinovac, the Gamaleya Institute, Bharat Biotech, and Johnson & Johnson.
The Philippines has continued to struggle to secure a steady supply of vaccines, with only three million doses delivered so far. Just over one million more are expected this month.
More than 1.3 million health workers, senior citizens, and persons with comorbidities have been vaccinated as of April 20.