Up to 40 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from the World Health Organization (WHO)-led COVAX initiative will arrive in the Philippines for free, some of which will be delivered as early as next month, an official announced Thursday.
In a televised briefing, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the WHO had confirmed the Philippines’ participation in the COVAX facility, a mechanism that will ensure an early rollout of Covid-19 shots.
“I am happy to announce that our COVAX Facility for the Philippines has been approved. It includes the possibility of ensuring that we will have 30 to 40 million doses for free for our countrymen,” Galvez said.
These vaccines, he said, are excluded from the 148 million doses the Philippines is hoping to secure through its negotiations with manufacturers.
The vaccines will arrive in the Philippines in tranches.
Vaccines from COVAX will include those made by Western companies Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, as well as those developed by the Serum Institute of India, Galvez said.
COVAX is a globally-pooled vaccine procurement and distribution effort which aims to secure vaccines for 20 percent of the population in each participating country by the end of 2021, with funding covered for the 92 lower- and lower middle-income countries involved.
Aside from vaccines delivered by COVAX, the Philippines is also expecting to receive 50,000 vaccine doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. next month.
The government aims to inoculate 50 to 70 million Filipinos against Covid-19 this year but it hangs on the availability of vaccines, which were mostly procured by wealthy nations.
The country has secured deals from US-based Novovax, China’s Sinovac and British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca, but only Pfizer has so far secured an emergency use authorization from the Philippine Food and Drug Administration.
Sinovac’s vaccine requires storage in -2 to -8 degrees Celsius, while Pfizer-BioNTech’s requires ultracold -80 to -70 C.
Galvez, during the briefing, assured the public that the country has “adequate” storage facilities to keep Covid-19 vaccines.
He said the government is negotiating with some 18 logistic companies with cold storage capability ranging from 2 to +8 °C up to -80 to -70 °C.
“This is to ensure we have zero wastage and to maintain the efficacy and the original state of vaccines for our countrymen,” Galvez said.
“Our conclusion is we have adequate cold storage facilities for all vaccines ranging from 2 to +8 °C as well as delicate -70 °C,” he added.
The Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), a state-run health facility in Muntinlupa, currently has four cold rooms with a +2 to +8 °C temperature range, one -20 °C walk-in freezer, and two borrowed ultra-low temperature freezers with a -70 to -80 °C temperature range.
The RITM commits its ultra-low temperature storage facility, according to a press release from the health department.
Meanwhile, the government is also in talks with UNILAB, the biggest pharmaceutical firm in the country.
UNILAB’s First Pioneer Distribution Center in Biñan City has a cold storage facility for temperature range of +2 to +8 °C and can store a maximum of five million doses of vaccines, according to the press release.
Zuellig Pharma Corporation, on the other hand, has +2 to +8 °C cold rooms which can store up to 629 million doses in various warehouses.
It also has -15 to -25 °C walk-in freezers that can hold up to 40 million doses, while its 14 ultra-cold freezers with -80 to -70 °C can store up to 6.5 million doses of vaccines.