MANILA- The Philippines will buy an additional 20 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE, seeking to fully inoculate more than 80% of its population by mid-2022, a government official said on Sunday.
Vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge for the Southeast Asian country, which has seen one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the region and is now on alert for the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
A deal has been signed with Pfizer, bringing the government's total purchases of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to 60 million doses, said Carlito Galvez Jr, who is in charge of the government's vaccine procurement.
The additional doses will be used as booster shots and for paediatric vaccinations, Galvez said at a virtual media briefing a day before the start of a downscaled three-day national inoculation drive.
BioNTech said on Friday it expects more data on Omicron within two weeks to help determine whether its vaccine produced with Pfizer would have to be reworked.
Galvez said the country has received about 142 million doses of vaccines via purchases and donations, and has so far fully inoculated more than 35 million individuals, or about 46% of the targeted population.
The goal is to increase the number of vaccinated Filipinos to 54 million by year-end, or 70% of the targeted population, 77 million by the end of March 2022, and 90 million, or 82% of the population, by end-June, he said.
To keep the Omicron variant out, the Philippines has suspended inbound flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique until Dec. 15.
On Sunday, the government expanded the restriction to include Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy.
It also suspended a measure allowing entry of tourists from some countries, which was supposed to be implemented on a trial basis from Dec. 1.
(Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Tom Hogue and Raissa Kasolowsky) ((email@example.com))