Vaccination for the general public against COVID-19 may start by September or October this year, the National Vaccination Operations Center said Tuesday.
“Perhaps by September, there will only be a few people left in the general public sector because many of them are part of the poor, and many of them are part of the A4 group (workers),” said Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, the center’s chairperson.
The projected schedule for the vaccination of the general public has been moved several times due to the limited vaccine supply, she said.
Authorities earlier said the general population could get their shots starting April, but the date has since been moved to July and August.
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte welcomed the arrival of the latest vaccine shipment of 3 million doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine donated by the United States on Tuesday at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.
In a taped speech Monday night, Duterte thanked US President Joe Biden for not forgetting the Philippines in its COVID-19 vaccine donation to other countries.
Cabotaje said the premise was that the supply of vaccines would improve.
She said based on the current supply, the general population cannot be vaccinated yet.
The Philippines is expecting to receive 22,726,060 doses of COVID-19 vaccines this month, Cabotaje said.
The doses were either procured by the government and private sector or donated by the COVAX facility, the United States, United Kingdom, and China.
The latest batch will include vaccines from AstraZeneca, Moderna, Sinovac, Sinopharm, and Pfizer.
As of Aug. 2, the country has received over 34.3 million doses.
The Philippines has so far inoculated over 11 million people against COVID-19.
Despite the supply shortage, Cabotaje said the government is studying the possibility of raising its target for COVID-19 vaccination coverage from 70 percent to 80 percent of the country’s 109-million population.
“With the Delta variant, there is a looming proposal that we need to increase our vaccination coverage to 80 percent,” she said.
Cabotaje said the proposal would mean those below 18 years old would also be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Currently, the vaccination program is only for individuals aged 18 and above due to the limited supply.
“We are cognizant of the fact that we really need to increase our targets, but we will need to look at our vaccine supply and also at the efficacy of the different vaccines that will be considered,” Cabotaje said.
Two members of the Vaccine Expert Panel (VEP) earlier said the country would likely need to increase its herd immunity target to around 80 percent or above following the local transmission of the Delta variant.
In a recorded public address that aired Monday night, President Duterte said the government was not neglecting some areas in favor of others in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
“The problem in the Philippines is that we don’t have enough supply of vaccines,” Duterte said in Filipino. “If only we have more supply, then we will give it to them immediately.”
But with a limited supply, Duterte said the government should prioritize those high-risk areas where the dreaded virus can be more contagious, particularly in the populated and dense communities.
Duterte thanked US President Joe Biden for committing 3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Philippines.
“I would like to thank President of the United States, [Joe] Biden, the US government, and the people of America for not forgetting us,” Duterte said in his Talk to the People Monday night.
“Do not forget us because we share the same outlook in geopolitics here— especially in Southeast Asia,” he said.
The US donated 3 million doses of Moderna vaccine through the COVAX vaccine-sharing program led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and GAVI.
The shipment of 3 million Moderna doses, representing the largest donation of vaccines by a single country, has been pre-cleared, the Bureau of Customs said.
President Duterte was expected to welcome the US-made vaccine scheduled to arrive late Tuesday afternoon at the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.
The President was to be accompanied by US Embassy Charge’ d’Affaires John C. Law, National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr., and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
According to the White House, the doses were coursed through the COVAX facility to ensure the equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the COVID-19 vaccine donations from the United States were among the bases for President Duterte to consider keeping the Visiting Forces Agreement with the country’s longtime ally.
Also on Tuesday:
* Cabotaje said the Department of Information and Communications Technology is developing a digital solution that would show the COVID-19 vaccination status of an individual. “By the end of August or beginning of September, we hope we can already start automation. We will have the DICT issue the digitized vaccine certificate,” Cabotaje said, noting that these could be used when traveling abroad.
* The government will allow senior citizens to walk into COVID-19 vaccination sites even without appointments during the ECQ. Cabotaje said government agencies will not ask for additional requirements from senior citizens who walk into vaccination sites during the two-week lockdown.
* Local governments in Metro Manila will be allowed to vaccinate any person willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine while the National Capital Region (NCR) is under ECQ, the Department of Health (DOH) said on Monday. However, DOH spokesperson and Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that this will still depend on the supply of vaccines.
* The Food and Drug Administration said the protection offered by vaccines against severe symptoms and death caused by COVID-19 are retained even against the more transmissible Delta variant.