On March 1, 2021, the Philippines began its long-delayed coronavirus vaccination program, one day after receiving the first batch of free vaccines from China. Health-care professionals, police officers, and military personnel were among the first to receive the Sinovac vaccine, leading President Rodrigo Duterte to express his gratitude.
The vaccine has been approved for emergency use on people aged 18 to 59 by Manila’s Food and Drug Administration, but Duterte, 75, has declined to take it because of his age. The Chinese vaccine is also not approved for use by health-care staff due to its poor efficacy rate. The Chinese vaccine has not been well received by Filipino hospital workers, with one survey showing that 94% prefer Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines.
This year, the Philippines hopes to immunize up to 70 million Filipinos, or nearly half of the population. However, despite having the second-highest number of infections in Southeast Asia and one of the worst pandemic-induced recessions in the globe, the target is jeopardized by low public trust in vaccines, especially those developed in China like Sinovac.
Neurosurgeon Gerardo Legaspi, the head of the state-run Philippine General Hospital, was the first to receive the Sinovac vaccine, with further vaccinations expected in public hospitals throughout Metro Manila. On the first day of the launch, at least 128 vaccinees from the PGH, 85 from TALA, 20 from the Lung Center of the Philippines, 110 from the Philippine National Police General Hospital, 353 from Veterans Memorial Medical Center, and 60 from Victoriano Luna Medical Center obtained CoronaVac doses, according to the National Vaccine Operations Center.
Meanwhile, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr, the chief implementer and vaccine czar for the National Task Force against COVID 19, said the government aims to complete the inoculation of all healthcare staff by March to ensure the country’s healthcare system’s survival.
According to a survey conducted in January, nearly half of Filipinos are reluctant to get the Covid-19 vaccine due to safety concerns. Even as Duterte established warm relations with Beijing, public confidence in China has remained poor. Galvez still urged healthcare staff to get immunized with the new vaccine, which is guaranteed to be safe and reliable. “Ang lahat ng mga bakunang inaangkat natin, ‘yung 161 million doses ay safe na effective,” says the researcher. “Ang best vaccine ay ‘yung effective at productive na dumating ng mas maaga,” he said at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) pre-inoculation program.
Good thing, there is no reported case that the Sinovac vaccine has cause harm in the Philippines so far.