UK helping PH in vax program, looks forward to delivery of 22M AstraZeneca shots

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 4) — Anticipating the delivery of around 22 million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine to the Philippines this year, the United Kingdom is working with the Philippine government to ensure "successful deployment" across the country.

The UK was the first in the world to roll out a mass vaccination program in December and has since inoculated more than 20 million people, using either Oxford-AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccines.

It now seeks to share best practices to the Philippines, British Ambassador Daniel Pruce told CNN Philippines in an exclusive interview on Thursday.

The vaccine developed by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca with the University of Oxford is the second brand to officially reach the Philippines, next to the 600,000 doses of Chinese firm Sinovac's CoronaVac donated by Beijing.

The first shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines is composed of 487, 200 doses from the COVAX facility, to be followed by the rest of the 5 million doses from the same global initiative, Pruce said.

The World Health Organization, which leads the COVAX facility along with the vaccine alliance Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, earlier said the Philippines can even get up to 9.2 million doses of AztraZeneca's vaccine.

The 17 million doses secured by the country through tripartite agreements with the private sector, local government units, and AstraZeneca will be delivered "in the subsequent weeks or months," Pruce added.

"So that should mean, if you take together the COVAX contribution and the tripartite agreements, something in the order of [22] million shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine being in the country by the end of the year," Pruce said. 

The envoy added that the British Embassy in Manila has been helping the country prepare for its local vaccination program.

"It's one thing to secure your consignment of vaccines. It's another thing to actually get them into people's arms," Pruce said.

"And in the embassy, we've been working in recent weeks in close partnership with governments and the LGUs, sharing our experience in administering vaccines across the country in the UK," he said, adding that discussions have been "productive" so far.

While AstraZeneca was seen as among the preferred brands, some experts have warned that its efficacy has been affected by the B.1.351 variant first detected in South Africa.

Early data showed the AstraZeneca vaccine provided only "minimal protection" against mild and moderate COVID-19 from the South Africa variant. OCTA Research fellow and molecular biologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco even said on Wednesday that the South Africa variant dramatically decreases the AstraZeneca vaccine's efficacy from 70% to just 10%.

READ: Millions of AstraZeneca shots 'ineffective' if South Africa variant in PH not contained, expert warns

When asked about this, Pruce deferred to scientists and the company, but stressed that "research still continues, testing, emulation to the new variants."

Pruce added that the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines have so far worked for the UK, bringing down hospitalization rates and cases of serious illness due to the coronavirus.

The UK earlier discovered another more transmissible variant, the B.1.1.7. It has reached several other countries, including the Philippines, but the Oxford-AstraZeneca team said its vaccine protects well against this variant.