MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a shuffle in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to different areas and warned government personnel against "favoritism" over some brands.
While Duterte acknowledged that some people prefer Western-made vaccines like those from Moderna and Pfizer, he argued that all COVID-19 shots were developed "in the laboratories with people who are really well-equipped medically to do their job."
"Huwag kayong mamili. Sabi ko kay Secretary [Carlito] Galvez…ibabalasa ninyo. Iyong isang karton itapon mo sa isa dito… so ang magdating sa inyo halo," Duterte said in a taped meeting that aired in the wee hours of Wednesday.
(Do not choose. I told Secretary Galvez, shuffle it. Throw one box here so what will reach you is mixed.)
Addressing government health personnel, he added, "Do not do some favoritism there kasi masisira talaga (it will be ruined). You will just spoil everything."
Duterte, 76, was inoculated with the coronavirus vaccine from Chinese state firm Sinopharm.
"If they are not effective and if they are not good, eh bakit ngayon halos wala nang patay (why are there almost no deaths now)?" he said of Chinese vaccines.
Jabs from Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech make up about half of the Philippine COVID-19 vaccine supply.
Officials who earlier urged government to prioritize the purchase of Western vaccines include the President's daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.
"Stop buying and stop sending Sinopharm and Sinovac to vaccination sites. Instead, focus on buying Pfizer and Moderna since there is high interest in these vaccines," she urged the national government in September.
The President's spokesman Harry Roque at that time said the vaccines from the West "come in trickles."
"On behalf of IATF, sino bang ayaw ng Western brand? Ang problema lang, talagang hindi natin nakukuha ang supply," he said.
(Who doesn't want a Western brand? The only problem is, we are not getting the supply... You see that they come in trickles.)
Sinovac jabs and the COVID-19 vaccine by Chinese state firm Sinopharm have secured emergency listing by the World Health Organization, which means they are safe and effective, said Dr. Edsel Salvaña, a member of the group that advises government on COVID-19.
"Any vaccine is better than no vaccine," added molecular biologist Fr. Nicanor Austriaco.
The Philippines has tallied some 2.7 million overall coronavirus infections, among the highest in Asia. The country has so far fully vaccinated at least 24 million of its 109 million population.
The government wants to vaccinate at least 50 million people by Christmas.