BONGAO, TAWI-TAWI — The National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19 and National Vaccination Operations Center (NVOC) began the deployment of the first batch of the Janssen anti-COVID vaccines to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region on Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).

This developed following the arrival last week of 3.2 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson-made vaccines from the US-COVAX donation sharing agreement in which the Philippines was included as a recipient country.

A total of 30,000 doses of the single-shot vaccine arrived in Tawi-Tawi on Monday, July 19, that will be rolled out in the municipalities of Sitangkai, Turtles Island, and Mapun Island.

Another 30,000 Janssen doses have also been delivered to the island-province of Basilan.

NTF Chief Implementer and vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr said that out of the 10 million doses of anti-COVID 19 vaccines received by the national government this month, more than 300,000 doses have been allocated for the BARMM.

The shipment will be composed of 150,000 Janssen vaccines, 19,500 COVAX-donated Astrazeneca vaccines, and 130,992 Sinovac vaccines.

“Our commitment to COVAX and the US government is that the vaccine supply, particularly Johnson & Johnson will be deployed equitably to all regions. The first deployment in BARMM is particularly intended for geographically-isolated islands and those communities living in our borders and along the boundaries of the Philippines,” said Galvez.

“Priority should really be given in these areas. Our development partners like UNICEF, who have seen first-hand the difficult situation in BARMM, have also given the same recommendation. And we are happy to share the same views and approaches on how these vaccines should be deployed,” he added.

In a directive released by the NVOC, the latest vaccine supplies to arrive in the country will be utilized for the remaining unvaccinated A2 and A3 groups in geographically-isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDAS).

According to BARMM Health Minister Basharay Latiph, the rollout of the Janssen vaccine will begin immediately after the Eid-al Adha.

The vaccines, he said, will be distributed to the island-provinces beginning Wednesday, July 21, adding vaccinators from the BARMM Ministry of Health will also be sent to the areas to administer the shots.

“The deployment of these life-saving vaccines is a great gift to our Muslim brothers and sisters as they celebrate the Eid-al Adha. We will see to it that the allocated vaccines will be fully distributed to all areas in the BARMM within the week,” said Galvez.

In coordination with the Western Mindanao Command, 40,000 doses of the Janssen vaccine allocated for Sulu will be deployed on Tuesday, July 20 through a military aircraft.

Galvez said additional vaccine doses will be shipped to the BARMM in the coming weeks.

Protection of vulnerable and border communities

As part of preventive measures being implemented by the government with the detection of the first Delta variant cases in the country, the NTF has called on all local government units and national government agencies to strengthen border control measures across the country particularly in the BARMM, which shares sea borders with Malaysia and Indonesia.

Galvez underscored that along with this measure, there is a need to accelerate the rollout of the immunization program in the provinces.

He said the deployment of the one-shot Janssen vaccines to the island-provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi will significantly boost the vaccine program and will ensure the full protection of residents.

“Apart from strict border control, we must ensure the protection of Filipinos living in those islands because they are highly vulnerable to the disease particularly from the threat of Delta variant coming from Sabah and nearby parts of Indonesia,” he said.

As part of the COVAX-donated supply, the Janssen vaccines are to be used to inoculate priority groups identified by the World Health Organization who are high risk and highly vulnerable to the disease.

In particular, the vaccines will be administered to healthcare workers (A1), senior citizens (A2), and persons with comorbidities (A3).

Over 113,000 jabs have already been administered in BARMM. Around 80,478 residents received their first dose while 33,085 individuals have been fully vaccinated. END