This week, after months of delay, the Philippines officially started its national coronavirus national vaccination program after the arrival of 600,000 doses of CoronaVac vaccines from the Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
Like some crash of thunder, our thoughts stand on a mound of guarded optimism, with official reports that more than 700 health workers were inoculated with the coronavirus vaccine during the first day of the vaccine rollout on Monday using donated doses from the Beijing-based drugmaker Sinovac.
In an interview with ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo, Department of Health spokesperson Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at least 404 health workers from different hospitals in Metro Manila had been vaccinated.
The first COVID-19 vaccine in the country was legally administered by nurse Charleuck Santos to Dr. Gerardo Legaspi, director of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital, one of the few coronavirus-designated hospitals in the country.
We note that at PGH, health workers were reluctant to receive the Sinovac vaccine.
Days before the rollout, the PGH Physicians Association urged officials to wait for the review of the country’s Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) before using donated Sinovac vaccines.
Health experts stressed the HTAC’s review was necessary as the body “does not solely focus on cost minimization issues for the State, but also “include ethical, legal, social, and health system implications.”
Apart from Legaspi, Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo, government medical adviser Dr Edsel Salvana, and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. were also vaccinated – in the first chapter lettered with hope that the fight against the pandemic would be wrestled down before too long.
Thus far, the coronavirus disease, which forced the domestic economy to screech to a slow grind and put millions of employees off their offices or official work sites, has infected more than 576,000 and killed nearly 12,400 since the legendary strict lockdown was clamped down on this country of 110 million people on Marc 17 last year.
The vaccinations went on a roll at the PGH, among health workers at the Lung Center of the Philippines, Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center and Sanitarium (Tala), Veterans Memorial Medical Center, Philippine National Police General Hospital, and Victoriano Luna Medical Center.
Understandably, China’s state news agency Xinhua covered the launching Monday after the arrival of the doses from China, but did not report that four people, among those who first got the dose, were reported feeling unwell after receiving the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center Monday.
One report heard nationwide on Super Radyo dzBB said one of them was a VMMC staff who developed rashes and redness after vaccination although the employee was subsequently discharged.
A male staff of the Department of National Defense was also taken by an ambulance after having a headache and high blood pressure while a female DND personnel also experienced rashes, other reports said.
The last vaccine recipient, whose name was not immediately available, reported feeling unwell and had palpitations.
The Department of Health has said the Sinovac vaccines “will also be rolled out in other parts of the country in the coming days.”
The government intends to inoculate up to 70 million Filipinos this year to achieve herd immunity, starting with health care workers, the elderly, and the poor communities.
‘Herd immunity’, also known as ‘population immunity,’ is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection.
The Philippines is also negotiating to buy over 160 million vaccine doses from different pharmaceutical firms this year, including Sinovac, according to Galvez, the official in charge of the vaccine procurement.
Health workers were identified as the first group to receive the Sinovac vaccine, though their participation came after intense deliberation on whether to include them in the rollout.
The FDA earlier said data from Phase 3 trials in Brazil, where a lower efficacy of 50.4 percent was observed, led experts not to recommend its use for priority groups.
But with vaccine supplies scarce and the delivery of different brands uncertain, vaccine experts decided health workers should be given the chance to receive an available vaccine since they are most exposed to COVID-19.
In the meantime, as more vaccines have yet to be delivered, those who choose not to get the Sinovac vaccine are given assurances they will not lose their place in the government’s prioritization.
There are currently 600,000 jabs of the China-made Sinovac vaccine in the country and officials are expecting 1 million more doses this March after securing 25 million from the company.
More than 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine is also expected to arrive in the country within the month.
World Health Organization Country Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe earlier confirmed that around 5.5 million to 9.2 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which the Philippine drug regulator already approved for emergency use, have been earmarked for the country.
Our blind optimism remains.