Philippines scales down mass vaccinations as typhoon approaches

December 15, 2021 - 3:51 PM
Filipino health workers and people with comorbidities wait to receive coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Makati Coliseum, in Makati, Philippines, May 4, 2021. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

MANILA — An incoming typhoon has forced the Philippines to delay COVID-19 vaccinations of millions of people living in the path of the storm, as authorities hastened preparations in anticipation of its arrival this week.

Typhoon Odette (International name: Rai) is expected to hit land on Thursday, bringing strong winds and rain in the central Philippines in what would be the 15th typhoon, and one of the strongest, to hit the Southeast Asian archipelago this year. Thousands have been preemptively evacuated.

The Philippines kicked off its second three-day vaccination drive on Wednesday targeting seven million people in 17 regions. That will be cut to six regions this week.

Half of the country’s 110 million population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but coverage remains uneven and the rate of full vaccinations is still low.

The capital region has fully vaccinated most eligible residents, but the rate in central and southern areas is below the national average of 53%.

In its autonomous Muslim-majority southern region, just 13% of eligible residents have been fully vaccinated, government data show.

The weather bureau said typhoon Odette’s wind speed could accelerate to 155 kilometers (96 miles) per hour from 120 kph, and it warned of storm surges, flooding and landslides in coastal and mountainous areas in the typhoon’s path.

An average 20 typhoons hit the Philippines annually, bringing heavy rains that trigger deadly landslides.

—Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty