COVAX VACCINES. Cargoes containing the 487,200 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine are being unloaded from a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines aircraft that arrived at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City on Thursday night (March 4, 2021). It marked the first delivery of the life-saving shots against Covid-19 through COVAX Facility and the second batch after the China-donated 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines that arrived on Feb. 28. (PNA photo by Joey Razon)

A total of 487,200 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine have finally arrived in the Philippines on March 4, marking the first delivery of the life-saving shots against SARS-CoV-2 through COVAX facility.

The KLM commercial flight carrying the vials from Belgium that landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 at past 7 p.m. were personally welcomed by President Rodrigo Duterte, senior government officials, and members of the diplomatic corps.

WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said this first batch of supply is a “testament to the strength of collaboration, cooperation, and compassion.”

He thanked all donor countries, mostly from Europe for their contribution and investments that made the consignment of safe and effective vaccines to Manila possible.

The first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines was produced in South Korea and donated by more than a dozen countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Norway, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, and Greece.

“The consignment received today will be followed by up to 4.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines scheduled to arrive before the end of May in batches in addition to other vaccine stated to be delivered to the Philippines through the COVAX Facility,” Abeyasinghe said in his speech.

The vaccine supply from COVAX is expected to cover at least 20 percent of the country’s population, with medical front-liners, the elderly, and those suffering from co-morbidities as priorities.

“Standing together in solidarity has indeed made us stronger,” he said. “We honor the government of the Philippines for the strong leadership provided under the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte throughout the response and the dedicated team of the Department of Health.”

Abeyasinghe said WHO’s work with the Philippine government also includes supporting the DOH in strategic planning, demand generation, and establishing a “robust information system” for vaccine tracking and user monitoring.

“The WHO, UNICEF, and other UN organizations and our partners in the Philippines and our donors look forward to supporting the Covid-19 vaccination campaign throughout the country,” he added.

Duterte said the latest delivery would boost the national vaccination program.

“The need for international solidarity and cooperation cannot be made clearer than this pandemic because no one is safe globally until everyone is safe,” he said.

He enjoined all government agencies to actively institutionalize and sustain the whole-of-government approach, while asking the public to cooperate and get vaccinated.

“Be the government’s partner in preventing further spread of the disease. I encourage you to get vaccinated at the soonest possible time. These vaccines are safe and they are the key to reopening our society, ” he said.

Meanwhile, he commended vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez, the Inter Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, and the DOH for their efforts throughout the government’s pandemic response.

He also expressed the country’s gratitude to all COVAX donor countries and reiterated his earlier position that these shots “should be treated as a global public good.”

“I don’t know how to express my gratitude to the donor countries that you remembered the poor nations [it] is in fact already a plus for humanity. And in behalf of the Republic of the Philippines and of the people, and all, I’d like to say again that we felt the gratitude in our hearts and may God bless you for your benevolence,” he said.

The vaccines were transported to Metropac in Marikina for storage, with distribution expected to start immediately after repackaging.

In a statement, the EU Delegation in Manila said the bloc, as one of the contributors in the COVAX Facility, has so far provided PHP130 billion to help 92 low and middle-income countries, including the Philippines.

“Team Europe is proud to contribute to the COVAX facility to help provide affordable and fair access to vaccines for Filipinos. Under COVAX, the Philippines will receive vaccines for 22 million Filipinos,” said EU Ambassador to the Philippines Luc Véron.

Véron along with other members of the diplomatic corps in the Philippines witnessed the vaccines delivery at the Villamor Air Base.

Among those present are Italian Amb. Giorgio Guglielmino, British Amb. Daniel Pruce, Norway Amb. Bjorn Jahnsen, Spanish Amb. Jorge Sanchez, the Netherlands Amb. Saskia DeLang, German Amb. Anke Reiffenstuel, India Amb. Shambhu Kumaran, South Korean Amb. Kim In-Chul, French Amb. Michéle Boccoz, and Australian Amb. Steven Robinson. (PNA)