BY GERARD NAVAL and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR
TWENTY individuals who received shots of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine on Monday experienced “minor and common symptoms following immunization,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said yesterday.
The symptoms, she said, are high blood pressure, pain in the injection area, rashes, headache, and nausea.
“All of them have been monitored, managed accordingly, and discharged. No one was admitted,” she said.
Vergeire also said Day 1 of the vaccination program saw 756 individuals receiving the CoronaVac vaccine in designated inoculation centers.
“We are content, we are happy. We have long waited for this and we are now vaccinating our healthcare workers,” said Vergeire.
Priority recipients are healthcare workers.
The CoronaVac vaccines, the first official vaccine supply of the Philippines, arrived on Sunday. The shipment of 600,000 doses of the vaccines made by Sinovac Biotech, a private Chinese firm, was donated by China.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also expressed satisfaction with the turnout of the first day.
“Yesterday’s rollout was quite satisfactory. There was much pride and joy in seeing that at long last the healthcare workers are able to receive the vaccination and protection against COVID-19. It is heartwarming to witness the historic event,” said Duque in a TV interview.
Vergeire said the total number of vaccinees is higher than expected.
“We saw the support and we saw that healthcare workers voluntarily had themselves vaccinated yesterday,” she said.
“We are expecting that the numbers will still increase because there are more hospitals conducting vaccination,” added Vergeire.
Duque reiterated his call for all eligible healthcare workers to get inoculated.
The immunization program officially began at the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, Dr Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital (Tala Hospital) in Caloocan City, and Lung Center of the Philippines, Veterans Memorial Medical Center, PNP General Hospital in Quezon City, and V. Luna General Hospital, all in Quezon City.
Yesterday, several local government hospitals began their vaccination activities, like the Pasig City General Hospital, Pasay City General Hospital, Taguig-Pateros District Hospital, and Sta. Ana Hospital in Manila. Vaccination activities were also conducted at the Marikina Sports Complex.
Vergeire said some private hospitals are already set to begin their own immunization programs for their medical personnel next week.
The vaccination activities would continue daily around the country and start this weekend in Cebu City and Davao City.
Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., also chief implementer of the National Task Force (NTF) against COVID-19, on Monday night, reported to President Duterte that many people were very happy with the arrival of the Sinovac vaccines and the kickoff of the immunization program which have been “trending” in social media discussions.
GLOBAL SUPPLY ‘BOTTLENECK’
Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in the Philippines, said continued delays in the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility is due to two “bottlenecks” experienced globally.
“At the global level now, we are now seeing two bottlenecks,” he said.
“There are 190 countries, who had signed on to the COVAX and who are anticipating vaccines, and, now, this is posing a challenge,” he added.
Firstly, Abeyasinghe said, manufacturers are unable to meet the global demand for the vaccines “because these are biological processes and they could not produce the quantities that they anticipated that they could early on.” Abeyasinghe also pointed to the bottleneck in delivery.
“Because these vaccines need to be transported while maintaining cold chain requirements, logistic handlers are having challenges in ensuring large shipments of vaccines across the world,” he said.
What is important, he said, is that the Philippines has already been able to meet its requirements to gain access to the doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca.
“When we know of a firm date (of delivery), which we believe will be very soon, we will announce that,” said Abeyasinghe.
The Philippines is slated to receive from the COVAX Facility 117,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech and 5,500,800 doses of AstraZeneca.
Galvez said he has been receiving messages from local government officials who kept reminding him not to forget them during the distribution of vaccines.
He said what surprised him the most was even St. Luke’s Medical Center, one of the popular private health institutions in the country, is now asking the government for assistance in securing the Sinovac vaccines for 5,000 of its personnel.
He said St. Luke’s usually prefers the vaccines from Pfizer Biotech but wants to start a mini-rollout for its team at the Quezon City and Taguig branches.
Galvez said President Duterte wants the available vaccines used strictly for medical, health and hospital frontliners to sustain efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
Galvez, during a rollout in Marikina City yesterday, apologized to Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro and other local government officials as he said the national government cannot accommodate them in the current vaccination program because of limited supply.
Teodoro said he was willing to be vaccinated with the Sinovac vaccine to show his constituents that the vaccine is safe and effective. He, however, understands supply limitations.
Galvez said once the government is able to maintain a vaccine supply of at least two million doses, and completes the vaccination of 1.7 million health workers nationwide within the month, the government can start including the local officials.
Galvez said there were discussions in the Interagency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) on whether to allow local government officials to receive the vaccines now, until it was decided that only the health workers would be vaccinated for now.
He said the health sector had raised concerns that if one local government official, like a mayor is allowed to be vaccinated, others would follow, and this could lead to depriving the health workers of vaccines.
Galvez was among a few national government officials vaccinated on Monday, to convince the people that the Sinovac vaccine is safe.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Roque said Galvez and his deputy chief implementer Vivencio Dizon, together with other officials, were exempted from the vaccine priorities because they oversee the vaccination program.
Galvez reassured the public that more vaccines are expected to arrive this month but the bulk of the supply will arrive in the third to fourth quarter of the year.
He said apart from the donated 600,000 doses of CoronaVac, a million more doses, bought by the government, are expected this month.
He said 525,000 doses from AstraZeneca, under the COVAX Facility, was supposed to be delivered on March 1 but it was delayed due to supply limitations.