MANILA (UPDATE) — Philippine General Hospital (PGH) head Gerardo Legaspi on Monday received the first authorized dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the Philippines, just several hours after a batch of donated doses from the Chinese company Sinovac arrived in the country.
In a live feed of the vaccination via PTV, Legaspi received the CoronaVac jab from PGH nurse Chareluck Santos.
After being inoculated, he presented a certificate showing that he received the vaccine.
"Ang asawa ko po at anak, kinausap ko kahapon dahil hyper-allergic sila, malamang itong bakuna ang i-recommend ko sa kanila," Legaspi said during a briefing after he was vaccinated.
(I talked to my wife and child yesterday, and because they are hyper-allergic, I might recommend this for them.)
The vaccine developed by Sinovac is said to have only common vaccine side effects. No adverse or serious side effects or allergic reactions have been observed among those vaccinated with it.
Second to be vaccinated is Dr. Edsel Salvana, who is part of the Department of Health Technical Advisory Group and also a PGH doctor.
Next in line was Food and Drug Administration 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, Jr. and vaccine czar Sec. Carlito Galvez, Jr.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque was also seen being screened for the Sinovac vaccine. But the tight supply of the shots prevented him from getting inoculated.
"Ako po, willing mabakunahan. Kaya lang, kagaya ng sinabi ni [PGH Director] Dr. Gap Legaspi ay ubos na iyong 100 [doses] nila for the day ‘no. We will have to come back on another day," Roque told reporters in an online briefing.
(I am wiling to get vaccinated. But, as Dr. Gap Legaspi said, their 100-dose allocation for the day has been used up.)
During his speech before the vaccination, Galvez said that while there are other vaccines with higher efficacy rate, “There is no such best vaccine dahil ang pinaka-best vaccine ay yung effective at efficient na dumarating ng mas maaga.”
(There is no such best vaccine because the best vaccine is the one that is effective and efficient that arrived earlier.)
PGH spokesman Dr. Jonas Del Rosario, who was earlier reported to be the first to receive the shot, said he was not vaccinated after latest tests showed he had a high amount of antibodies after recovering from COVID-19 last year.
He said he expects more health workers to get inoculated after 90 percent of PGH workers said they preferred a different vaccine.
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 due to the lengthy coronavirus lockdowns.
A total of 1,200 doses were sent to the PGH on Monday after the Chinese company’s vaccines arrived in the country on Sunday.
Sinovac has an efficacy rate of 65.3% to 91.2%, based on vaccinations in Indonesia and Turkey. But its efficacy rate among health workers exposed to COVID-19 in Brazil was only 50.4%.
While this is above the World Health Organization benchmark of 50%, it is significantly lower than other vaccine frontrunners like Pfizer and Moderna with 95% efficacy.
The Philippines has issued emergency use authorization for Sinovac, Pfizer and AstraZeneca. Pfizer was supposed to be the first COVID-19 vaccine with an EUA to arrive in the Philippines, but it was delayed due to the indemnification agreement requirement.
There have been reports of smuggled COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines. Last year, members of the Presidential Security Group were inoculated using the vaccine candidate of another Chinese drugmaker, Sinopharm.
Galvez said he was personally instructed by President Rodrigo Duterte to be vaccinated at the PGH to address the low confidence of health workers towards Sinovac.
“Kahapon, binigyan niya (Duterte) ako ng utos na 'Magpabakuna ka para at least it will make them (health workers) feel na ang ating pamahalaan, ang lahat ng mga bakuna na inaangkat natin ay safe and effective',” said Galvez, a retired military general.
(Yesterday, he ordered me to be vaccinated so at least it will make health workers feel that our government is importing vaccines that are safe and effective.)
Health workers are first in line in the Philippines’ priority recipients of COVID-19 vaccines.
Surveys from different hospitals showed high confidence in the vaccines against the coronavirus.l But some reports, like that of PGH, showed a much lower rate of health workers willing to be vaccinated with Sinovac’s vaccine.
Galvez said that while efficacy rate in preventing COVID-19 may only be at 50%, there is 100% protection against severe illness and death.
Other hospitals that received vials of the Sinovac vaccine were military hospital V. Luna Medical Center; Dr. Jose N Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Tala, Caloocan; the Pasig City General Hospital; the Philippine National Police General Hospital in Camp Crame; and the Lung Center of the Philippines.
Of the 600,000 donated Sinovac vaccines, 100,000 are supposed to be allocated for the Department of National Defense (DND).
In a statement, the DND said it will initially inoculate 14,520 individuals using 29,040 doses, and the remaining 70,960 doses will be given to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The government aims to vaccinate 50 to 70 million Filipinos by the end of the year, depending on the supply of vaccines.
Expected to arrive next are doses from AstraZeneca through the COVAX Facility, which aims for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Besides the donated doses, the Philippines is also expected to procure vaccines from Sinovac.
The Philippines in March will get 1 million more Sinovac shots, and 3.5 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine fro Britain's AstraZeneca, said Galvez.
Doses that will not be used by health workers would go to essential government workers like barangay emergency response teams, and "influencers" like mayors who could boost vaccine confidence, he said.
The Philippines has seen a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in some areas like several cities in Metro Manila. Currently, there are a total of 578,381 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, of which, 31,708 or 5.5 percent are active infections.
Besides the increase in cases in some areas, the Philippines is also monitoring the possible spread of new COVID-19 variants of concern, some of which are said to be more transmissible.
The Philippines' first COVID-19 case was reported on Jan. 30 last year in a Chinese woman who arrived from Wuhan City, China where the disease is believed to have first emerged.
- with report from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News