Daily COVID-19 Infections Hit 6-Month High in Philippines

Marielle Lucenio and Mark Navales
Daily COVID-19 Infections Hit 6-Month High in Philippines A Philippine General Hospital health worker in Manila receives the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine, March 1, 2021.
[Luis Liwanag/BenarNews]

The Philippines recorded almost 4,600 new COVID-19 cases – the highest single-day increase in nearly six months – while health authorities on Friday said they would not stop inoculating people with the AstraZeneca vaccine despite concerns in some European countries about the drug’s safety.

Officials from the Philippine Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said they were aware that some European Union countries have paused their use of the vaccine.

These countries have suspended their use of the AstraZeneca vaccines “as a precautionary measure, while they conduct a full investigation to determine causality between the vaccination and the reported adverse events following immunization,” the health department said in a statement.

Both the health department and the FDA believe that “there is no indication for the Philippines to stop the rollout of AstraZeneca vaccines. The public is assured that they will closely monitor all deployed vaccines.”

Meanwhile in Thailand, public health officials postponed Friday’s planned vaccination of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and other officials over reports about the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which evaluates medicinal products for the European Union, noted that there are no indications the AstraZeneca vaccines caused the reported adverse effects.

“There is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine,” it said in a statement on its website.

“The position of EMA’s safety committee PRAC (Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee) is that the vaccine’s benefits continue to outweigh its risks and the vaccine can continue to be administered while investigation of cases of thromboembolic events is ongoing.”

AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish firm, issued a statement declaring the vaccine is safe.

“An analysis of our safety data of more than 10 million records has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country,” the company said in a statement to the media.

The Philippines recorded 4,578 new COVID-19 infections on Friday, even as the country moves to vaccinate more people, the government said. The total number of cases reached 611,618, while 87 new deaths pushed pandemic-related fatalities to 12,694, the health department said.

The inoculation program began earlier this month with 600,000 vaccine doses from China’s Sinovac, and 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX facility, an international partnership set up to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines around the world.

Financial assistance

Meanwhile, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank granted $900 million in financial assistance through loans to cover vaccine purchase and other pandemic-related health care needs.

Ndiamé Diop, World Bank country director for Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, said COVID-19 vaccines must be distributed to priority groups that include frontline health workers, senior citizens, indigent communities, teachers, government workers, indigenous people and the remaining population. 

“Inclusive deployment of vaccines in line with the World Health Organization Fair Allocation Framework is critical for preventing grave illness and deaths from COVID-19, opening the economy in earnest, ensuring a resilient recovery and restoring jobs and incomes,” Diop said in a statement.

The Manila-based Asian Development Bank announced that the Philippines is the first country to receive $400 million under its Asia Pacific Vaccine Access Facility to assist the country’s efforts to procure vaccines.

“ADB’s support will boost the Philippine government’s urgent efforts to secure and deploy COVID-19 vaccines for all Filipinos, especially those who are vulnerable, such as frontline workers, the elderly, and poor and marginalized populations, as well as those at increased risk of severe illness,” ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa said in a statement.

Last year, the World Bank approved $900 million in loans to support the Philippines’ efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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