HEALTH facilities in the regions have been given until Wednesday, March 24, 2021, to use up the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccines delivered to them, Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said Monday, March 22.
Any excess would be reverted to the DOH central office and redeployed to areas with a surge in Covid-19 cases, such as the National Capital Region plus (NCR+).
NCR+ refers to NCR or Metro Manila and the neighboring provinces of Bulacan in Central Luzon, and Cavite, Laguna and Rizal in Calabarzon, which account for more than half of the new cases in the country. The area has been placed in a partial Covid-19 “bubble” in an attempt to stem the rise in cases.
In a virtual press briefing Monday, Vergeire said March 24 is the latest deadline given to hospitals and other health facilities with AZ vaccines.
She did not indicate the first deadline, but said the vaccinations should have been completed by then.
“We have set another deadline and told them that if they couldn’t use up the vaccines by March 24, we are going to redistribute the vaccines to areas with a high number of cases,” she said in Tagalog.
She said implementing offices must understand that the AZ vaccine has a short shelf life.
“They have to do this expeditiously, especially now that the cases are rising at (ito) ang panlaban ng ating mga healthcare workers dito sa sakit na ito,” Vergeire added.
She assured that any stocks that would be redistributed would be returned to health facilities concerned when additional vaccines arrive.
Meanwhile, the 1,600 doses of AZ vaccine delivered to Cebu City on Sunday, March 21, which are intended for barangay health workers (BHWs) and health care workers in private clinics, cannot be used yet.
The Vaccine Advisory Board (VAB), with Vice Mayor Michael Rama as the convenor, disapproved of conducting the vaccination at the Don Bosco Youth Training Center (DBYTC) in Barangay Punta Princesa after a vaccination simulation was conducted there on Friday, March 19.
City Councilor David Tumulak said he will try to find another site as soon as possible since the vaccines have to be used within six days.
Tumulak said the VAB did not like the DBYTC since it lacks ventilation and bathrooms. The site is also not person with disability-friendly.
“The vaccine board was informed about the venue (even before the simulation). Everything
was prepared, but Rama said the venue won’t do,” Tumulak said in a mix of Cebuano and English.
Rama said the DOH 7 and the Department of the Interior and Local Government 7 assessed the site during the simulation.
“So putting all observations together, it is wise that we should get something better than that area,” he said.
Tumulak said they are looking at using malls as vaccination sites. However, the mall operator and the City Government have to sign a memorandum of agreement.
Rama said Tumulak is currently negotiating with the management of SM City Cebu.
Tumulak said the City Council has yet to take action on the matter as the council is waiting for the legal opinion from the City Attorney’s office.
He said several factors have to be considered in selecting a vaccination site, such as the availability of water, power and internet connection; proximity to a hospital; and the size of the area.
Tumulak said they’ve ruled out using public schools since these are “dusty” and most have poor ventilation.
More than 10,000 health care workers have been inoculated in Cebu City.
On Monday, the DOH 7 also delivered 300 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mandaue City.
The vaccines are intended for the staff of the City Health Office (CHO), BHWs, contact tracers and personnel of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (DRRMO), said CHO head Dr. Dominga Obenza.
She said they will inject all 300 doses as they have been instructed that the allocation was only for the first dose.
The Mandaue City Government started its vaccine rollout on March 11, injecting medical workers in public and private hospitals first.
City Councilor Nerissa SoonRuiz, committee on health chairperson and head of the vaccination and immunization team, said they’ve already prepared the list of 300 frontliners who will be vaccinated.
She said they have a quick substitution list (QSL) on hand in case a frontliner doesn’t pass the screening during the vaccination.
She said she was on the QSL, which was why she was injected with the CoronaVac vaccine of Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech Ltd. at the Mandaue City Hospital.
Ruiz said the public should not be afraid to get vaccinated against Covid-19, adding that the important thing is to protect themselves and their loved ones from getting seriously sick if they get infected.
The World Health Organization had warned that failure to use up the AstraZeneca vaccines would put the second tranche of vaccines from the Covax facility at risk.
A total of 525,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, donated through the Covax facility, were delivered to the Philippines on March 4 and 7. These will expire in three months, or by end-May 2021.
Instead of setting aside half of the shipment to be used for the second dose, the DOH recommended on March 15 that all 525,600 shots be used as first dose. President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the recommendation.
This will not only provide partial protection to more health care workers, but also ensure that the vaccines are used before the expiry date and the second tranche of Covax vaccines would be delivered.
The Philippines is also vaccinating some health care workers with the Sinovac vaccine donated by China.
Since the CoronaVac has a longer shelf life than the AstraZeneca vaccines, half of the 600,000 doses sent by China on Feb. 28 have been set aside for the second dose.
The government expects delivery in early April at the latest of an additional donation of 400,000 doses from China as well as one million doses procured from Sinovac.
As of March 15, nearly 216,000 individuals have been vaccinated in the Philippines, which is not even one percent of the target of 24.7 million individuals under Priority Group A, including 1.76 million health care workers. For 2021, the government targets to vaccinate a total of 70 million citizens.
Both the CoronaVac and AstraZeneca vaccines are administered in two doses. The second dose is given 28 days after the first dose for the CoronaVac, and four to 12 weeks for the AZ vaccine. The DOH has recommended that the second dose of the AZ vaccine be given on the 12th week. (MVI, JJL, KFD)