WHO wants medical workers vaccinated with first COVID-19 doses from COVAX in February

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 1) — With millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses set to arrive in the country through the COVAX facility, an official from the World Health Organization on Monday said they have made recommendations as to which sectors need to be prioritized in the Philippine government's immunization plan.

WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said members of the COVAX facility, including the Philippines, were told that healthcare workers and elderlies with co-morbidities need to be vaccinated first.

"Priorities at this point in time for this year are to protect the most vulnerable and that is clearly the healthcare workers," he said in a media briefing. "We have requested member states applying in COVAX to prioritize healthcare workers so they can continue to provide their services. Beyond that, second level of priorities is the co-morbid elderlies."

The Philippines is expected to receive 5.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the first quarter of 2021 through the World Health Organization-led COVAX facility.

At least 117,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech are seen to arrive in the country on the second or third week of February. The Philippines may also be able to access 5.5 million to up to 9.2 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines made in South Korea by late February or early March — if it soon receives the emergency use listing (EUL) from WHO.

WHO has committed to supply the Philippines with 44 million doses of vaccines for cover 20% of its population by the end of the year.

Emergency use, other requirements

Abeyasinghe clarified that a vaccine must secure EUL from the WHO for it to be distributed to around 150 participating countries. Only Pfizer has secured this, while AstraZeneca may receive its EUL in the next two to three weeks, the official said. The WHO is also reviewing data of Moderna and Sinovac.

For the medicines to be allowed for use in the Philippines, the government also needs to fulfill requirements of vaccine manufacturers, such as import license and an indemnity and liability agreement before shots can be shipped.

"When all those requirements are met and we believe that the Philippines is on track to do that, we are looking potentially up to a maximum of 9.2 million doses coming through the COVAX facility already in February, March, April of this year," he said.

The Department of Health said the Philippines is ready with the ultra-cold storage requirement for the arrival of Pfizer vaccines in the coming weeks.

"We are already prepared for this initial deployment plan where we are going to utilize our private facilities of our private partners so that we'll be able to manage these kinds of vaccines," Health Spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said.