The government’s vaccination program begins today with the arrival of 600,000 doses of China-made Sinovac vaccine yesterday, Feb. 28.
The televised ceremonial vaccinations were held in different hospitals with various Cabinet members getting jabbed at UP-PGH in Manila, Lung Center and Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City, and Tala Hospital in Caloocan.
At 9:30 a.m., UP-PGH director Dr. Gerardo “Gap” Legaspi became the first Filipino to legally receive the CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech. In December 2020, it was reported that President Duterte’s security detail (PSG) were vaccinated with smuggled vaccine, which Duterte said was “justified.”
Legaspi said after he was inoculated, “Lagi ko pong sinasabi po na pinaliligiran tayo ng mga scientists at researchers at ang ating mga datos ay unang lumalabas at na-e-evaluate natin...Nakapag-desisyon po tayo sa Sinovac base sa siyensa.”
PGH received 1,200 doses of Sinovac. On Feb. 12, PGH spokesperson Dr. Jonas del Rosario said that close to 94% of PGH employees signed up to be vaccinated. This number dropped to 13% when they found out the vaccine was going to be Sinovac and not Pfizer or AstraZeneca.
In a statement on Feb. 27, the PGH Physicians’ Association said that “it came as a surprise” to the hospital that Sinovac was going to be given to PGH healthcare workers even as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend it for healthcare frontliners exposed to COVID-19 and senior citizens.
“The FDA currently recommends Sinovac for clinically healthy people aged 18-59 years old but does not recommend its use among healthcare workers exposed to COVID-19. Hence, it came as a surprise to the PGH community when we learned, through various national media outlets that the vaccine that will be administered in less than a week’s time is Sinovac. This was met by a sweeping disapproval rate of 95% on the initial survey done among PGH residents and fellows.”
Legaspi emphasized today that getting the Sinovac vaccine is purely voluntary. “Kailangan po nating idiin na ito ay boluntaryo. Dahil hindi po siya dapat ipilit kahit kanino ang ayaw niya.”
Tala Hospital director Dr. Alfonso “Fritz” Famaran was the first to be vaccinated at Dr. Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan City. He told media that 180 people (out of more than 1,000 employees) voltunteered to be jabbed with Sinovac, with volunteers’ median age at 35 to 40.
“I would grab the first opportunity to be vaccinated,” he said. “Andito na ang Sinovac eh.”
FDA director Eric Domingo, COVID testing czar Vince Dizon, infectious diseases expert Dr. Edsel Salvana, PGH associate professor Dr. Menguita Padilla and accine czar Carlito Galvez were also among the first to be vaccinated with Sinovac. Their second dose will be adminstered after four weeks.
National Task Force (NTF) chief implementer and testing czar Dizon told media that “there was no pain at all” and that the flu vaccine he got last year was more painful. “Ito na ang simula na malapit nang matapos ang napakabigat na problema natin,‘ he said. “Hopefully our actions today allow more people to gain more confidence in the vaccination program, napakaimportante nitong ginagawa natin ngayon.”
At the Lung Center, Secretary Francisco Duque thanked China for donating the vaccines.
At UP-PGH, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said, “Research pa more,” addressing criticism on the vaccination program’s delay.
The Philippines is one of the last in the region to roll out a vaccination program. As it begins its vaccination program today, Bangladesh has already administered 2.98 millions doses, Indonesia 2.6 million, and India 14.2 million
Galvez said 3.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from COVAX are expected to in the first quarter of the year (March) and the government “will try to vaccinate all healthcare workers by March.”
“Vaccines will be transported on March 3 and 4 to Cebu, March 5 and 6 to Davao. They will begin their vaccination programs the following day.”
Salvana said, “The best vaccine is the vaccine in you arm. I encourage everyone to get the vaccine that is here now.”
The Philippines is the second country in Southeast Asia to have the most COVID infections at 576,352 cases and 12,318 deaths.
President Rodrigo Duterte and DOH Secretary Francisco Duque will not be jabbed with Sinovac as it is not recommended for 60 years old and above.
(This is a developing story. Watch for updates.)