MANILA — Top health officials have backed the use of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine after getting inoculated by jabs from Beijing-based drug maker Sinovac Biotech on Monday.
Though they have earlier advised against the use of Sinovac's jab on health workers with direct exposure to virus due to its lower efficacy rate, the government officials were inoculated.
"I'm alive! Arm hurts but that's just my immune cells getting ready to churn out anti-COVID antibodies. #2 to get vaccinated in the Philippines!" Dr. Edsel Salvana, member of the technical advisory group that advises the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), said in a tweet.
"Thank you science and to everyone who worked so hard to make this happen," he added.
Food and Drug Administration director Eric Domingo told ABS-CBN News that he opted to join the vaccination program early on as he does not attend to COVID-19 patients, making him qualified for the said vaccine.
"'Yan kasing in-approve namin sa FDA is 18-59 [years old] na clinically healthy, so ako 'yun. Healthcare worker ako pero hindi naman ako healthcare worker na directly managing COVID-19 patients kasi ophtalmologist ako since pasok naman ako roon sa criteria ng vaccine nung nagpalista sa PGH, nauna na ako," Domingo told ABS-CBN News in a phone interview.
(That's what we approved at FDA, 18-59 years old which is clinically healthy, so that's me. I am a healthcare worker but I am not a healthcare worker directly managing COVID-19 patients because I am an ophthalmologist. Since I qualify for the vaccine criteria, i took it.)
"Ok naman. Ako naman walang symptoms. 'Di sumakit 'yung braso ko. Wala akong nararamdaman na any side effects," he added.
(I'm ok. I have no symptoms. My arm does not hurt. I do not feel any side effects.)
Domingo said that he wanted to show his colleagues that the vaccine is safe and it could help protect their families and curb the spread of the respiratory disease.
"Ako naman, hindi lang ako public official, more of a doctor ako and as a healthcare worker gusto kong ipakita sa mga kasamahan namin sa Philippine General Hospital (PGH) na kasama ko rin sa trabaho na talagang kailangan naming magpabakuna to protect ourselves of course and our families to help the country," the doctor said.
(As for me, I am not just a public official, I am more of a doctor and as a healthcare worker I want to show my colleagues at PGH that I am also at work with that we really need to be vaccinated to protect ourselves of course and our families to help the country.)
"Tsaka 'yung vaccine, kasi as FDA, ako rin ang nag-approve nung use ng vaccine na ito. Gusto kong ipakita sa kanila na talagang pinag-aaralan natin 'yan bago natin iapprove and that we are confident na kapag inaapprove natin ay safe ito," he added.
(Also, the vaccine, as part of the FDA, I also approved the use of this vaccine. I want to show them that we really studied that before we approve and that we are confident that when we approve it, it's safe.)
Domingo noted that he had to wait for 15 minutes to monitor for any side effects. They were also informed about possible side effects and were given a contact number number to call if they feel something unusual.
"I have to stay for 15 minutes kasi wala naman akong history of allergies 'yung iba they have to stay for 30 minutes kasi minonitor sila kung may nakitang reaction and pagkauwi namin may binigay na papel kung saan 'yung possible side effects naman nararamdaman mo and if you see anything unusual mayroon din ano 'yun contact number kung saan ka magre-report," he said.
(I have to stay for 15 minutes because I do not have a history of allergies. If you see anything unusual there is also a contact number where you will report.)
"Kung gusto po nating matapos 'tong pandemic na ito talagang kailangan po aside sa pagsusuot ng maskara, ng face shield, paghuhugas ng kamay at pagso-social distancing kailangang gawin po natin 'yung vaccination," he said.
(If we want to end this pandemic, what we really need to do, aside from wearing masks, face shields, hand washing and social distancing, we need to do the vaccination.)
"Ito talaga 'yung makakaprotect sa'tin at sa ating mga pamilya tsaka 'yung unti-unting makakatulong sa'tin na bumalik sa dati nating buhay."
(This is really what will protect us and our families and will gradually help us to get back to our former lives.)
The Philippines this month is also expected to get 1 million Sinovac jabs, and 3.5 million COVID-19 shots from UK's AstraZeneca with the help of vaccine-sharing COVAX Facility, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. earlier said.
Medical frontliners are the top priority in the vaccine rollout.
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 public confidence on the vaccine, Galvez said.
Despite having among the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Asia, the Philippines was the last Southeast Asian country to receive its initial set of vaccines.
The vaccination program will be crucial for Philippine efforts to revive its economy, which suffered a record 9.5 percent slump last year due to strict and lengthy lockdowns that hit consumer spending and saw big job losses.
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News and Reuters