BY JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR and GERARD NAVAL
VACCINES from the Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech arrived yesterday, with President Duterte witnessing the unloading of the country’s first supply of vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The 600,000 doses of CoronaVac vaccines donated by China were flown in by a Chinese military aircraft to the Villamor Air Base in Pasay City.
“With this very important shipment, I am confident that more batches of vaccines will be available with great dispatch until every Filipino will be given the chance to be vaccinated at the earliest possible opportunity,” Duterte said in a speech at the Villamor Air Base.
The President said he intends to visit China later his year to personally thank Chinese President Xi Jinping for the donation.
He also urged Filipinos anew to be vaccinated, regardless of the vaccine brand, and to continue observing minimum health protocols such as wearing face masks and shields, washing of hands, and social distancing.
The country was expecting the arrival today of vaccines from the British firm AstraZeneca, but the shipment will be delayed by about a week because of a “global supply problem,” said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.
The 525,600 AstraZeneca doses will come from the COVAX Facility, a global vaccine-sharing international co-led by the World Health Organization.
The Philippines, which has the second-highest tally of infections and deaths in the region, is the last Southeast Asian country to receive initial vaccine supplies, fueling concerns over recovery prospects for the domestic economy that suffered its worst slump on record last year.
Six hospitals in Metro Manila will launch the national vaccination drive among its personnel using the CoronaVac, and several Cabinet officials will be get their vaccinations there together with health workers who are among priority sectors.
These are the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila, Dr Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital (Tala Hospital) in Caloocan City, and the Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP), Veterans Memorial Medical Center (VMMC), V. Luna General Hospital, and PNP General Hospital in Quezon City, all in Quezon City.
“In the coming days, these vaccines will also be rolled out in the other parts of the country,” the Department of Health said in a statement.
Sen. Christopher Go, Senate health and demography chair, said Duque, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., testing czar Vince Dizon, and a handful of Cabinet secretaries will receive the vaccine today.
Go, former special aide to Duterte, said the officials agreed to be injected with the Sinovac vaccine to boost the people’s confidence in the China-made product.
He said Duque will be inoculated either at the East Avenue Medical Center or Lung Center of the Philippines, Galvez at the PGH, and Dizon at the Jose Rodriguez Medical Center.
He reiterated President Duterte will also be vaccinated in public and is just waiting the green light from his physician as to what vaccine brand is suited for him considering his age. Duterte is turning 76 years this month.
President Duterte, in welcoming the Sinovac shipment, emphasized that the vaccines should be “available to all, rich and poor alike.”
“Comprehensive global recovery hinges on equal and easy access by everyone to life-saving vaccines. Because, at the end of the day, as repeatedly said, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Countries must therefore continue working together and do everything humanly possible to ensure a good outcome for every person,” he added,
He thanked the Chinese government and Ambassador Huang Xilian for ensuring the timely delivery of the vaccines.
Duque asked healthcare workers to allow themselves to be inoculated with the Sinovac vaccines.
“These vaccines are safe, and of good quality. Do not be afraid to get vaccinated. We hope you accept these vaccines,” he said.
At least 100,000 of the donated Sinovac vaccines will be used on soldiers and the police and the 500,000 for health and hospital frontliners.
The government is buying 148 million doses of vaccines and targets to vaccinate 50 million to 70 million Filipinos within the year.
Galvez said the bulk of the purchases will arrive in the third to fourth quarter of the year.
The government is buying 25 million doses from Sinovac, and the first one million will start arriving this March.
Apart from the Chinese donation, the country expects to receive vaccines from COVAX Facility, which could serve 20 percent of the population. The vaccines for the 15 percent of the population will be free while the 5 percent would be paid for by the government.
The country was supposed to receive 117,000 doses of vaccines from Pfizer Biotech in February but requirements for indemnity agreements and law have delayed the delivery while the 525,600 doses of vaccine from AstraZeneca that was set to arrive on March 1 was delayed due to supply limitations.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is scheduled to lead rollout ceremonies at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City while AFP chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana will lead rites at the V Luna Medical Center, and PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas at the PNP General Hospital, likewise in Quezon.
The rollout at other military camps and treatment facilities will start on Tuesday.
It was not clear if Lorenzana, Sobejana and Sinas will be inoculated with the CoronaVac today. – With Raymond Africa, Victor Reyes and Reuters