MANILA - Several Metro Manila mayors on Tuesday said they were willing to be inoculated with Sinovac's COVID-19 jabs as soon as the Department of Health (DOH) allows it to help boost public confidence in coronavirus vaccines.
The Philippines began rolling out COVID-19 vaccines on March 1, about a year since the virus entered the country. But health workers and other Filipinos have expressed hesitation on getting jabs, specifically China's Sinovac, the first to arrive in the country.
"I'm okay getting inoculated with Sinovac jabs given that FDA has approved it already, but with the caveat only if it will not deprive a medical frontliner of much needed jabs," Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian told ABS-CBN News.
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said he was eager to be inoculated against COVID-19, but would have to wait after medical frontliners get inoculated.
"Gustong gusto ko na magpabakuna ng Sinovac," the mayor told reporters, noting that he has been exposed to COVID-19 patients at least 7 times.
(I really want to be inoculated with Sinovac.)
"Araw-araw akong nasa risk tulad ng ibang mga mayor, pero patuloy pa rin tayong susunod sa national policy na unahin ang mga medical frontliner. I will wait for my turn," he said.
(Just like other mayors, I am at risk every day, but we have to continuously adhere to the national policy that medical frontliners should be the priority. I will wait for my turn.)
Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto and Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro have also expressed willingness to receive Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine to assure their constituents that the jabs from China are safe and effective.
"We must not deprive a single health worker of the vaccine since these are so limited at present and I am happy to wait for my turn in the list," Belmonte said.
"No'ng isang araw ay naisama ako sa listahan ng mga eligible, at hindi naman ako katulad ng mga health care workers na napakalaki ng exposure [at] napakalaki ng risk kaya ako ay nagqua-qualify sa Sinovac," Teodoro said in an interview on TeleRadyo.
(The other day, I was included in the list of those eligible [for the vaccination] and I'm not like health care workers who are highly-exposed and at risk [of COVID-19] so I qualified for the Sinovac vaccine.)
Health workers have expressed hesitation about receiving Sinovac vaccines after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said these jabs may not be suitable for health frontliners directly exposed to coronavirus patients as the brand has a "lower efficacy rate of 50.4 percent."
COVID-19 jabs from American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer was seen to have a 94 percent efficacy rate, while Europe's AstraZeneca's vaccines were estimated to have an efficacy rate of 70 percent after the first dose, and trials are ongoing to determine the efficacy rate after the 2nd dose.
A national advisory body on immunization, however, approved Sinovac's use for health workers despite the FDA's warning its efficacy may decline for those exposed regularly to COVID-19 patients.
These worries over the efficacy of Sinovac were made apparent on the first day of COVID-19 immunization programs in Metro Manila.
In Pasig City, only 167 health workers from the Pasig City General Hospital and the Pasig City Children's Hospital availed of the free COVID-19 jabs, leaving vacant almost half of the initial 300 vaccination slots for medical frontliners, data from the local government showed.
"I don't have the exact numbers pero kung pupulsuhan natin, may iba na gusto na din ng Sinovac, may iba na nagdadalawang-isip pa kasi medyo bago," Sotto told reporters.
(I don't have the exact numbers but if we base it on estimates, there are those who want to be inoculated with Sinovac, but there are others who are still having second thoughts because it is new.)
"Ang importante naman diyan, habang dumadating 'yung mga datos, as we receive more data and information... makikita natin kung tumataas o bumababa ba 'yung confidence level," he said.
(What is important is while we receive more data and information... we will see if the confidence level is improving or dropping.)
In Manila, only 163 health workers or just over a tenth of the 1,500 initial vaccination slots for frontliners signed up during the first day of the capital city's COVID-19 inoculation program, according to the local government's public information office.
"Magpabakuna po kayo habang andidito po at may pagkakataon, lalong lalo na po ang ating medical frontliners," said Manila Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna, a doctor and the capital city's first to receive a COVID-19 shot.
(People, especially medical frontliners, should avail of the vaccine while it is still here and while there is a chance.)
'NO WITH RESERVATIONS'
Some medical frontliners were uncertain about the efficacy and possible side effects brought by the COVID-19 vaccine but became more open to being inoculated after their questions were answered, Gatchalian told ABS-CBN News.
"I noticed they (medical frontliners) are hesitant but not closed to the idea," he said in a message.
"They're not 'hard no' on the matter, but rather 'no with reservations,'" he said.
The Valenzuela City government has started a massive information campaign both on print and social media to address clarifications about the COVID-19 jabs, the mayor said.
"They simply have questions, but once the questions have been answered they tilt to the 'yes [to being vaccinated] column,'" he said.
A similar initiative was done in Navotas, Mayor Toby Tiangco told ABS-CBN News in a separate message.
The local government "conducted NavoBakuna vaccination orientations to various sectors including barangay captains, barangay health workers, seniors citizens," indigent families and uniformed personnel, he said.
The city also "conducted webinars with health experts" and "posted on social media testimonies of Navoteño frontliners in other countries who have been vaccinated," he said.
"[It's] part of the process to improve vaccine confidence," the Navotas mayor said.
'UNDERSTANDABLE' PUBLIC FEAR
The national government is trying to sustain the delivery of correct information about coronavirus vaccines to Filipinos to ease their worries, Philippine COVID-19 testing czar Vince Dizon told reporters.
The public's worries are "understandable" because this is the first time we saw a worldwide vaccination program as big as this, he said.
"Kailangan tuloy-tuloy lang ang pagbibigay ng impormasyon na tama, hindi 'yung impormasyon lang na nakukuha natin sa internet," Dizon said.
(We have to continuously provide correct information, not just any information from the internet.)
"Habang nagagawa natin 'yun, confident kami na tuloy-tuloy lang 'yung pagtaas ng kumpiyansa," he said.
(If we can do that, we are confident that the public's confidence will continue to improve.)