MANILA (UPDATED) — An official leading the Philippine COVID-19 inoculation strategy said on Monday that the public should not wait for so-called "best" vaccines, but instead take jabs that are readily available.
Filipinos so far have only one vaccine option: 600,000 COVID-19 shots developed by Beijing-based drug maker Sinovac Biotech, which China donated and arrived on Sunday.
"Hindi po tayo pupunta sa new normal, hindi po makaka-recover ang ating economy, hindi natin maibabalik ang ating dating buhay kung hindi tayo magpakuna. Ito po ay moral obligation ng lahat ng mga tao," said vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.
(We cannot go to the new normal, our economy won't recover, we cannot return to our old way of life if we don't get vaccinated. This is a moral obligation of everyone.)
"Huwag nating hintayin iyong tinatawag na best vaccine. There is no such [thing as] best vaccine dahil ang pinaka-best vaccine iyong effective at efficient na dumarating ng mas maaga," he said.
(Let us not wait for the so-called best vaccine. There is no such thing as best vaccine because the best vaccine is that which is effective and efficient that arrives earlier.)
In a separate statement, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also urged the public not to "politicize" the government's COVID-19 vaccination program.
"NOW is NOT the time to play Doomsayer. Now is NOT the time for games. And most specially, now is NOT the time for politics," he said.
"As our government rolls out its vaccination program, let us all work together to make it successful. Let us encourage our people to participate in the program and have themselves vaccinated. I don’t see any good coming out from spreading fake news or lies about the Sinovac vaccine. Sinovac has been supplying effective and affordable anti-rabies, anti-tetanus and flu vaccines to the Philippines since 2009," Lorenzana added.
According to Lorenzana, criticizing the Sinovac vaccine will only dissuade people from getting vaccinated.
"Let us spread facts. Countries like Thailand, which is the second richest in Southeast Asia, rolled out Sinovac in their vaccination program yesterday. Hong Kong, a progressive metropolis, uses it, too. Malaysia and Singapore have started to receive Sinovac as well," he said.
"This is just the first brand to arrive, among other brands that are scheduled. Don’t politicize the vaccine donation and use it as a political propaganda. Hindi maganda. It reflects badly on us as a nation. Ginagalit, tinatakot pa ng iilan ang mga tao sa kinakalat nilang mga fake news. Please stop. Tama na muna ang pulitika," Lorenzana said.
Galvez, Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo, and PGH chief Dr. Gerardo Legaspi were among the first to get vaccinated at the Manila hospital on Monday.
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, said Galvez.
In total, the country will have 5.1 million doses by the end of March, he added.
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 vaccine confidence, 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 a report from Reuters