The Philippines on Sunday received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines courtesy of China's Sinovac, paving the way for an immunization program that is key to loosening one-year-old quarantines.
President Rodrigo Duterte received the shipment of 600,000 doses of the CoronoVac jab, donated by the Chinese government, at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City. Some 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine courtesy of the global alliance COVAX are expected on Monday.
"I wish to assure the public that your government remains committed to a timely rollout that will enable us to confidently reopen our society," Duterte said in a speech during the turnover ceremony.
"The delivery of the first batch, I hope, will serve as a guarantee to everyone that we are taking a big first step to overcome this crisis," he added.
Duterte allayed fears of Filipinos on vaccination, saying it is backed by science.
"To my fellow Filipinos, set your fears aside, these vaccines are backed by science and deliberated by Filipino experts," he said.
"I said it before and I will say it again, COVID-19 vaccines should be treated as a global public good and be made available to all," he added.
CoronaVac is the third to be authorized by the local Food and Drug Administration for emergency use after Pfizer's and AstraZeneca's jabs. It has been found to be up to 91.25% effective in trials in Turkey but other, more robust trials in Brazil only demonstrated an efficacy rate of around 50.4%.
The Philippines has a total order of 25 million doses from Sinovac.
Who gets first jab?
President Duterte's top Cabinet officials are set to simultaneously receive the initial Sinovac jabs on Monday at different hospitals in Metro Manila.
COVID-19 vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr. will be inoculated at the Philippine General Hospital while Health Sec. Francisco Duque III will receive the jab at the Lung Center of the Philippines.
Based on the government's mass COVID-19 immunization program, healthcare workers are first in line to get jabs.
While the FDA earlier did not recommend giving Sinovac vaccines to healthcare workers, health chief Duque said they are free to take the jabs since the China-made drugs offer 100% protection against severe COVID-19 infection.
More vaccines expected
After Sinovac, other COVID-19 vaccines are expected to arrive soon in the Philippines but the majority of the negotiated supplies will likely be available in the country by the second or third quarter of the year.
"Mas importante po na marami na tayong mabakunahan as soon as possible dahil alam naman po natin na iba’t ibang mga bagong mga strain ng virus ang kumakalat ngayon at mas nakakahawa. So itutuloy naman po natin ang pagbabakuna natin. Siguro nga po hindi nga lang iyong mga brands na gusto natin," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque had said.
The Philippines is working to negotiate orders for up to 92 million COVID-19 vaccine doses this year, nearly 20 million more than its initial target of 72 million.
Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez III had said that the increase in order was due to reports of vaccine delivery delays hampering immunization programs worldwide.
Aside from Sinovac and AstraZeneca, other COVID-19 vaccines expected to be available in the Philippines soon are those from Pfizer, and Novavax. The country is also negotiating to order Moderna vaccines.