Government plans to inject 1.4 million health workers by March
The Philippines is negotiating the delivery of another 1 million doses of CoronaVac, manufactured by the Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech, the firm's general manager said Monday Sinovac GM Helen Yang also told ANC Headstart Sinovac is private and not run by the Chinese government.
She also described Philippine officials as “tough negotiators.”
This developed as vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez on Monday said the country is planning to vaccinate at least 1.4 million health workers in a month’s time.
The rollout started at six Manila hospitals a day after the government, under fire over delays in vaccine procurement, received 600,000 donated doses of the Sinovac jab from Beijing.
Of these doses, 500,000 are allocated for medical frontliners and a total of 100,000 are for military personnel.
Health authorities are looking to complete the rollout of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine in the Philippines in two to three weeks, as the country begins its first vaccinations to stop the spread of the virus.
“We will try to do the vaccination of all health workers nationwide by March,” Galvez said during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout at PGH in Manila.
“Nobody will be left behind,” he said in Filipino.
On Monday, University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi became the country’s first official recipient of a vaccine against COVID-19.
Legaspi received a shot of CoronaVac, during a symbolic vaccination ceremony at the UP-PGH grounds attended by top government officials.
In a live feed of the vaccination through state-owned PTV-4, Legaspi received the CoronaVac vaccine from PGH nurse Sherlock Santos.
After being inoculated, Legaspi was presented a certificate showing that he received the vaccine.
The second to be vaccinated was Dr. Edsel Salvana, who is part of the Department of Health Technical Advisory Group and also a PGH doctor.
He was followed by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director General Eric Domingo.
Legaspi and the other vaccine recipients were monitored for 30 minutes for possible side effects.
Also vaccinated at the PGH were Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Benhur Abalos, vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., and Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque.
Before being vaccinated, Galvez said there was no such thing as a “best vaccine because the best vaccine is the one that is effective and efficient and that arrived earlier.”
PGH spokesman Dr. Jonas Del Rosario, who was earlier reported to be in line to be the first to receive the dose, said he was not vaccinated after latest tests showed he had a high amount of antibodies after recovering from COVID-19 last year.
Del Rosario said he expected more health workers to receive the vaccine after more than 90 percent of PGH workers said they preferred a different vaccine.
Meanwhile, testing czar Vince Dizon and four medical personnel were the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital (DJNRMH), formerly Tala Sanitarium, in Caloocan City Monday.
Dr. Alfonso Victorino Famaran, DJNRMH, medical center chief, was the first to get inoculated with CoronaVac there. He was followed by the hospital’s nursing service chief Samuel Sumilang.
Dizon followed and then two more nurses. A report by PTV-4 said Dizon’s blood pressure slightly went up so he rested a little before the inoculation.
The Philippines is the last Southeast Asian country to receive initial vaccine supplies, fueling concerns over recovery prospects for a consumption-driven economy that suffered its worst slump on record last year, hit by lengthy coronavirus lockdowns.
Sinovac has an efficacy rate of 65.3 percent to 91.2 percent based on vaccinations in Indonesia and Turkey but its efficacy rate among health workers in Brazil was only 50.4 percent.
While this is above the World Health Organization benchmark of 50 percent, it is significantly lower than other vaccine frontrunners like Pfizer and Moderna, which have 95 percent efficacy.
The Philippines has issued emergency use authorization (EUA) for Sinovac, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca.
Galvez said he was personally instructed by President Rodrigo Duterte to be vaccinated at PGH to address the low confidence of health workers towards Sinovac.
“Yesterday he ordered me to be vaccinated so at least it will make the health workers feel that our government is importing vaccines that are safe and effective,” he said.
Health workers are the first in line in the Philippines’ priority framework for COVID-19 vaccines.
Surveys from different hospitals showed high confidence in the vaccines.
However, some showed a much lower rate of confidence in the Sinovac vaccine.
Galvez, however, said that while efficacy rate in preventing COVID-19 may only be at 50 percent, there is 100 percent protection against severe illness and death.
Key aides of President Duterte, who were among hundreds to get jabs, described getting inoculated as a moral duty.
“It kindles hope that, after nearly a year in darkness, the light is back on,” Roque said.
The Philippines has recorded more than 576,000 virus cases and 12,000 deaths, with infections at a four-month high as the vaccine rollout began.
The donated doses represent a fraction of the shots Manila has been negotiating with seven manufacturers to secure.
The bulk of the supply is not expected until later this year. But the challenge is not limited to stock.
Low public confidence in vaccines remains after the country became the first to deploy the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia in 2016.
A botched rollout led to claims that several dozen children had died from the jab, and recent surveys showed almost half of the population were unwilling to be inoculated against coronavirus.
Galvez lashed out at critics who he said were spreading “fake news” that the Sinovac jab, called CoronaVac, is no good.
“Getting a jab is a moral obligation for everyone. We must not wait for the so-called best vaccine because there is no such thing,” he said.
CoronaVac only obtained regulatory approval for emergency use days before the doses arrived, and the regulator initially did not recommend it for healthcare workers due to its comparatively low efficacy.
The government later allowed it to be offered to those willing to take it, but many nurses and doctors have opted to wait for other vaccines.
The only available COVID-19 vaccine in the Philippines so far is made by Sinovac which has been issued emergency use authorization (EUA) by the FDA last Feb. 22.
Based on Philippine FDA evaluation, Sinovac has an efficacy rate of 65 percent to 91 percent among healthy individuals aged 18 to 59.
The FDA, however, recommended against the use of Sinovac on health workers since its efficacy rate only reached 50.4 percent in clinical studies involving that group.
But the DOH and the Vaccine Experts Panel (VEP) eventually recommended use of Sinovac on health workers anyway, saying it will be beneficial and safe for them.
Based on data reviewed by the DOH and VEP, Sinovac's efficacy rate against moderate COVID-19 symptoms is 78 percent and 100 percent against severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire on Monday said they are prepared for the scheduled start of the government's vaccination program.
Vergeire, in an Interview on Unang Balita, hours before the first symbolic vaccination, said the vaccines had already been delivered to seven priority hospitals in Metro Manila.
The seven priority hospitals in Metro Manila are: PGH, Lung Center of the Philippines, Veterans Memorial Medical Center, Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium (Tala Hospital), PNP General Hospital, Pasig City General Hospital, and V. Luna Medical Center.
Vaccination in the provinces, particularly in Cebu and Davao, are expected to start this week, Vergeire said.
Vergeire said the initial run of the vaccination was focused in Metro Manila as it is the "epicenter" of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
It took 40 minutes before V. Luna General Hospital's pharmacist officially received the 600 doses delivered to them, but Vergeire said this would not affect the efficacy of the vaccines as they are contained in properly secured transport boxes.
PGH’s Legaspi said about 100 personnel from the government hospital would be inoculated with the Chinese vaccine.
Legaspi said 96 people were vaccinated in an hour, higher than the expected turnout of 20 to 50 personnel for the first day.
Legaspi expressed optimism that more PGH staff will get vaccinated in the coming days after their internal surveys showed low interest in Sinovac.
Only 8 percent of PGH frontliners are willing to receive the Chinese Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine as its staff await the results of a Department of Health (DOH) panel assessment, a PGH spokesperson said PGH spokesperson Jonas del Rosario said the DOH's Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) was expected to release its recommendation on the use of Sinovac's vaccine on Monday evening.
The hospital received CoronaVac doses at around 2 a.m. Monday, he added.
“If the recommendation is positive, we're expecting more health workers will want to get vaccinated,” Del Rosario said.
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