Philippine COVID-19 Vaccination Set to Escalate

Philippine COVID-19 VaccinationThe Philippine COVID-19 vaccination program is set to escalate because the Philippine government has purchased 40 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.  This purchase follows previous vaccine purchases of the Moderna, AstraZeneca, China’s Sinovac and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccination. With the Pfizer-BioNTech purchase, the Philippines will have 113 million doses to vaccinate their population of 115 million people.

As of late June, the Philippines had only administered 8 million doses. The Philippine COVID-19 vaccination goal is to vaccinate at least 70 million people in the next 5 months. Carlito Galvez, chief of the Philippine COVID-19 vaccine administration, remarked that the new vaccine purchase “will significantly boost our national immunization program and will enable us to realize our goal of achieving herd immunity by year-end.” Vaccine distribution is prioritizing people who work out of their homes, healthcare workers and older citizens.

Struggles in Virus Response

Like much of the world, a second wave outbreak of the virus devastated the Philippines. From March to June 2021, the daily rate of documented infections ranged from 3,000 to 7,000.  It hit a peak of 15,310 daily cases on April 2. President Rodrigo Duterte received immense criticism from the international community for this second wave of the pandemic.  Although he employed one of the world’s strictest and longest lockdowns, he failed to implement mass testing or a robust vaccination program.

Duterte is already infamous for his troubled human rights record. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet described the ongoing situation as “highly militarized.” Unfortunately, according to Time, virus mismanagement is a common trend in authoritarian countries where rulers belittle the COVID threat and refuse to follow science and the advice of health officials. Duterte and rulers like him have gained the label of “medical populists.”  Time considers Duterte a “wild card” and stresses that what happens in the Philippines matters elsewhere because the Philippines provides workers throughout the world. Hopefully, the recent Pfizer-BioNTech deal is a step in the direction towards a more humane and effective virus response.

The Path Ahead

The Philippines will have to overcome many obstacles to reach herd immunity for its large population. Manila, the capital, lacks vaccine access, and COVID is surging in several provinces, which complicates vaccine distribution.

Despite these obstacles, in addition to the new purchase of vaccines, the government is consulting with experts on vaccine rollout. A team of medical experts from Israel is in the Philippines supporting the COVID response.  Israel is a world leader in vaccine dissemination.  Galvez reiterated that “we want to learn from the best practices being implemented in Israel and hopefully, replicate and use them in crafting our country’s policies.” Vaccinating children aged 12-15 is a top priority so Philippine children are now eligible to receive the single-dose vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech. The Philippines is also hoping to receive 44 million vaccine doses from COVAX, the international vaccine-sharing organization.  All these efforts should bolster the Philippine COVID-19 vaccination program.

– Conor Green
Photo: Flickr