THE PHILIPPINES will take delivery of 4.58 million doses of coronavirus vaccines made by AstraZeneca Plc in May under a global initiative for equal access, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“The Philippines is receiving one of the largest consignments of COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access vaccines in this first initial consignment,” WHO Country Representative Rabindara Abeyasinghe told an online news briefing on Thursday.

The government was set to get the first delivery of 487,000 AstraZeneca vaccines on Thursday night. The vaccines got delayed by a few days due to supply problems.

Mr. Abeyasinghe said there was no exact date yet on the arrival of the vaccines but these would come in larger batches. The country needs to set up enough storage capacity to manage the coming vaccine stocks, he added.

The WHO representative said the government would soon take delivery of 117,000 doses of Pfizer, Inc. vaccines that got delayed after the government failed to submit documents freeing the drug maker from potential lawsuits.

More vaccine allocations from Pfizer would be known before the end of the month, he said.

Mr. Abeyasinghe said vaccines under the COVAX facility should be given to the most vulnerable population first including health workers, the elderly and people with comorbidities.

He urged the Department of Health (DoH) and partners engaged in the rollout of the vaccines to follow the COVAX protocol.

“If we want to ensure that we continue to access the vaccines from the COVAX facility, we need to demonstrate that we can follow this prioritization,” he added.

Mr. Abeyasinghe said the AstraZeneca vaccine can be used against the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa.

OCTA Research fellow Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco on Wednesday cited the need to eliminate the South African coronavirus variant because the AstraZeneca vaccine efficacy against it is reduced to 10% from 70%.

Mr. Abeyasinghe said that they are looking into these reports, but noted that the sample used for the study on the efficacy was less than 2,000. He added that there was no evidence yet of a large-scale presence of the South African variant in the country.

The WHO thinks the AstraZeneca vaccine is still effective even in places with many cases of the coronavirus variant, he said.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire on Tuesday said both the South African and United Kingdom variants are more contagious. The South African variant’s mutation might affect vaccine efficacy, she added.

The Health department on Tuesday reported the first six cases of the variant first reported in South Africa, three of whom were from Pasay City. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas