The Philippines will get at least 161 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of 2021 -- 13 million more jabs than previously proposed, vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said Monday, hours after the country began its immunization program against the deadly disease.
More than 700 health workers were inoculated with the coronavirus vaccine during the first day of the country's COVID-19 vaccine rollout on Monday using donated doses from the Chinese drugmaker Sinovac Biotech, Department of Health spokesperson Usec. Maria Rosario Vergeire said.
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte, in his weekly televised briefing, thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping for helping the Philippines get its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from Sinovac.
"If President Xi Jinping is listening now, President, from the bottom of my heart, and with immense gratitude, I thank you, the Chinese people and government, for being so generous. Maybe someday I can repay you if I would still have enough time in this planet," Duterte said.
Galvez, also National COVID-19 task force chief implementer, told the President during the briefing that of the 161 million, 44 million will be procured from the COVAX Facility, an initiative which aims for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all.
This is 13 million more than the previous proposal to procure 148 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from seven pharmaceutical companies.
The Philippines will have about 20 million doses of COVID-19 shots by the second quarter of 2021, according to Galvez.
"In the third quarter, the vaccines which we'll buy will be available … We'll have 68 million additional doses in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, we'll have 69 million. All in all … we'll have 161 million doses," he said.
Galvez said COVID-19 vaccines will be delivered to Cebu on March 3, and to Davao on March 4. Metro Manila is still the top priority of the country's immunization program among regions due to its large number of COVID-19 cases, the former military general said.
Duterte also said he was able to talk to Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, who whispered something to him during Sunday's turnover ceremony for the CoronaVac vaccines.
"Let me thank again, Ambassador Huang Xilian whispered something to me. I just don't want to say it, but he told me something when we shook hands before we left the stage. Very encouraging, and I said thank you. You know what it is, but I would not want to preempt. I want the benefactor to announce that, they wanted to do it. So we are thankful," the President said.
Duterte said he personally called Xi during the early days of the pandemic to ask for help in acquiring vaccines. He said the credit goes to the Filipino people who made him think of ways to solve the problem.
"I would like to thank President Xi Jinping. You know, I do not want to grab the credit. The credit is the Filipino people, inspired us to crank our gray matter between the ears, how really can we muster a good plan," he said.
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