Parañaque health chief first in PH to be inoculated with AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Isay Reyes, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 06 2021 05:50 PM | Updated as of Mar 06 2021 07:06 PM

Dr. Olga Virtusio, 60, chief of the Parañaque City Health Office, was the first Filipino inoculated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Isay Reyes, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The head of Parañaque City's Health Office on Saturday became the first person in the Philippines to receive the first-ever dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, a shipment of which arrived in the country earlier this week via the COVAX Facility. 

Dr. Olga Virtusio, who is 60 years old, is among those prioritized for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the Food and Drug Administration said is suitable for senior citizens. It was the second brand to reach the Philippines, next to Chinese firm Sinovac's CoronaVac.

Virtusio said she prepared for the vaccination by getting enough sleep and by eating healthy food. She said she felt no adverse side effects even after the observation period. 

“I think being the head of our city health office in Parañaque City… prompted me to lead my staff to show the people that this is a very safe vaccine. I don’t think dapat tayo matakot sa bakuna,” she said. 

“Nahihiya ako, di ko naman alam na ako 'yung una. I’m very proud and happy. Noon pa lang gusto ko na sa Sinovac pero they stopped me,” she added. 

(I don’t think we should be scared to be vaccinated, I am shy and I did not expect that I would be the first to be inoculated. I wanted to have Sinovac before but they stopped me.)

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Unlike China’s Sinovac vaccine, which arrived last Sunday, AstraZeneca shots can be administered to the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. However, it is not yet recommended for those below 18.

The Ospital ng Parañaque District II was the first hospital to receive AstraZeneca vaccines, vaccine czar Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. said. The hospital received an allotment of 200 doses meant for senior citizen health care workers. 

“After the AstraZeneca vaccines arrived, we are blessed to be chosen as the venue of the first vaccination of the AstraZeneca in the country. This will be very helpful especially to the senior citizens,” Dr. Jefferson Pagsisihan, the hospital director, said.

The AstraZeneca shipment of 487,200 jabs on Thursday via the COVAX facility was the second batch of vaccines to officially reach the country, following the arrival of the Sinovac shots on Sunday. 

A total of 38,400 more doses of AstraZeneca shots are set to arrive Sunday.

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On Friday, there were 9,000 medical frontliners who were vaccinated with Sinovac, close to their target range of 10,000 health workers a day. 

Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez said that of the 3,800 health care workers in the city, 90 percent expressed willingness to be vaccinated. The remaining 10 percent, meanwhile, have their reservations. 

“We’re very happy and thankful na napili tayo na unang-una dito sa Metro Manila o sa buong bansa. Makita po natin dito halos 90 percent is willing, very willing. Our health care workers are very willing,” Olivarez said. 

(I am happy and thankful that we are the first city to be chosen in Metro Manila and the entire country for the vaccine rollout. We can see that almost 90 percent said they are very willing to be vaccinated.) 

Galvez, meanwhile, noted positive response to the Sinovac rollout despite earlier concerns expressed by health workers over its lower efficacy rate compared to other brands.

The official also emphasized that the President’s strict instruction was to prioritize the inoculation of some 1.7 million health care workers in the country whose vaccination is targeted to be finished by April. 

He added that the government would prioritize the vaccination in areas with high COVID-19 cases, including Metro Manila and Central Visayas. 

“Nakita natin na kung sino 'yung mga hindi nabigyan ng Sinovac at willing mabigyan ng bakuna, 'yun ang bibigyan natin. Ang priority is 'yung mga lugar na may pagtaas at nakita namin 'yung tumataas 'yung new cases 'yung NCR, Region 8, 7, Baguio and Davao City.” he said. 

(We identified the places that will not be given Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine and those areas willing to receive it. Our priority are the places with high COVID-19 infections and where cases recently spiked like NCR, Region 8, 7, Baguio and Davao City.) 

More than 13,000 health workers so far have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in the Philippines as of Friday night, days after the inoculation drive began across the country, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said earlier in the day. 

The Philippines aims to inoculate 70 million people to achieve herd immunity. This week, COVID-19 cases in the country has seen a spike, with over 3,400 recorded on Saturday, the highest since October.