MANILA — The Philippines will get its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines this weekend with the expected arrival of doses from Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac, Malacañang said on Thursday.
The Sinovac shots will arrive in the Philippines on Sunday, said Palace spokesman Harry Roque. Officials are expected to welcome the arrival of the jabs in person, he told reporters in an online briefing.
“Maraming salamat po muli sa Sinovac at sa Tsina,” he said.
(Thank you very much again to Sinovac and China.)
Authorities earlier said China would donate 600,000 COVID-19 shots through Beijing-based Sinovac, which received its emergency use authorization in the Philippines this week.
The 2-shot vaccine delivery will be enough to cover 50,000 soldiers and 250,000 health workers, who are at the top of the priority list, said Roque.
This is despite the Food and Drug Administration's previous statement that the Sinovac vaccine, CoronaVac, is not recommended for health workers. Clinical trials of the vaccine showed it had a 50.4-percent efficacy when used on health care workers exposed to COVID-19, said the FDA.
“Despite the EUA issued by the FDA, nilinaw po iyan ni [Director General] Dr. [Eric] Domingo na hindi po ipinagbabawal ibigay ito sa health professionals,” said Roque.
“Wala pong pilitan. Iyong gustong maghintay nga po ng ibang brand, siguro ang concession na maibibigay sa kanila is puwede silang humindi at puwede silang maghintay without losing their priority,” he added.
(Despite the EUA issued by the FDA, Dr. Domingo clarified that it is not banned from being given to health professionals. No one will be forced. Those who want to get a different brand, perhaps the concession we can give to them is that they can say no and wait without losing their priority.)
The lack of an indemnification deal, which settles who should pay for adverse vaccine effects, has delayed the arrival of 117,000 COVID-19 shots from Pfizer, which vaccine-sharing COVAX Facility was initially expected to send in mid-February.
AstraZeneca shots from COVAX will arrive in March, said Roque.
“Ginawa ng pamahalaan ng Pilipinas ang lahat para una sana dumating ang mga western brands, kasama na ang pagpasa ng batas sa indemnity na hinihingi ng ilang mga western pharmaceuticals,” he said.
“Pero sa ngayon po, ang darating sa araw ng Linggo ay ang Sinovac. Ligtas po ito at epektibo.”
(The Philippine government did everything so that western brands could have arrived first, including the passage of an indemnity law which some western pharmaceuticals asked for. But for now, what will arrive on Sunday is Sinovac. This is safe and effective.)
The Philippines could roll out its first legal vaccination on Monday, said Roque.
“Mas importante po na mas marami na tayong mabakunahan as soon as possible dahil alam naman po natin na iba’t ibang mga bagong strain ng virus ang kumakalat ngayon at mas nakakahawa,” the Palace official said.
(It is more important now that we vaccinate many people as soon as possible because we know that various strains of the virus are spreading and are more contagious.)
“Itutuloy po naman po natin ang pagbabakuna natin, siguro nga po, hindi nga lang iyong mga brands na gusto natin. Alam n’yo, matagal ko na pong sinabi ‘yan, hindi tayo makakapili, magagamit lang natin kung ano ‘yong available,” he added.
(We will push through with our vaccination, perhaps just not with the brands we want. I have said that long ago, we can't choose, we can only use what is available.)
However, the Department of Health and the National Task Force Against COVID-19 said "specific details as to the allocation and subsequent rollout of the 600,000 donated SINOVAC doses are still being evaluated."
This requires the official recommendation of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) and its approval by the inter-agency task force on COVID-19.
The arrival ceremony for the vaccine will be held at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City, the DOH and NTF said in a joint statement.
"However, details of the planned arrival ceremony are still currently being finalized in close coordination with the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China," added the 2 bodies.
The Philippines, which has Southeast Asia's second highest number of COVID-19 cases, has lagged behind its regional neighbors in launching its vaccination drive. The government aims to vaccinate up to 70 million people or two-thirds of the population this year.