FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The Philippines has been guaranteed a supply of free coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccines as early as February after it was allowed to join a global alliance that guarantees equitable vaccine access.

The country will participate in the Covax AMC or Advance Market Commitment, which ensures that 92 middle- and lower-income nations will get equal access to vaccines as higher-income countries.

Covax is the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access organized by the World Health Organization alongside the European Commission and France and coordinated by Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Dr. Seth Berkley, the CEO of Gavi, said the facility “will fund volume guarantees to specific manufacturers for vaccine candidates before they are licensed, as well as provide market-wide demand guarantees to all manufacturers in the longer term.”

In a virtual press briefing on Thursday, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said the vaccines from Covax will start arriving next month.

Galvez said the Philippines could receive from 30 million to 40 million doses of vaccines for free from Covax.

The vaccines include those developed by United States-based Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, the British drugs group AstraZeneca, and the Covovax from the Serum Institute of India.

Galvez said the supply from Covax is on top of the 148 million doses that the Philippines is hoping to secure this month.

He said the vaccine from Pfizer was likely to be the first to arrive.

The Covax facility is guaranteeing the Philippines access to a portfolio of vaccines and doses for at least 22 million Filipinos.

The government has so far secured 25 million doses of Sinovac’s vaccine, with an initial 50,000 doses to arrive on February 20, followed by 950,000 doses in March.

Some 17 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine purchased through tripartite agreements are also expected to arrive first in the country.

Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine is expected to arrive within the first quarter, while that of Moderna is due in May.

In preparation for the vaccine shipments, Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd and Galvez inspected three cold storage facilities where the vaccines will be stored during the first wave of immunizations.

Dr. Ariel Valencia, director of the Department of Health (DoH) Supply Chain Management Service and head of the department’s Task Group for Cold Chain and Logistics, said the facilities at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa City, the First Pioneer Distribution Center of United Laboratories or Unilab in Biñan City, Laguna, and the Zuellig Pharma complex in Parañaque City have enough space to store vaccines at varying temperatures.

Speaking at a press news briefing on Thursday, Valencia said the DoH is also coordinating with other cold chain providers.

The need to acquire vaccines has become even more urgent following the arrival in the country of a Filipino from Dubai who was found to be infected with the UK variant of the coronavirus, B117.

In another briefing, Health Secretary Ma Rosario Vergeire said the department will suggest to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to re-test arriving passengers that tested negative for Covid-19 on their initial swab.

The girlfriend of the 29-year-old Filipino male passenger tested positive on re-swab after initially testing negative for the virus.

Vergeire said the DoH is proposing that passengers who tested negative upon arrival be

required to have a second swab test five days later in a quarantine hotel before they can be released to their local government units.

DoH Epidemiology Bureau chief Dr. Alethea de Guzman said it takes five days for Covid-19 symptoms to appear in a patient that had tested negative in the first place.

Even if a person remains to be negative on the fifth day, he should continue the 14-day mandatory quarantine.