Philippines, Thailand Begin COVID-19 Vaccine Rollouts

Luis Liwanag and Jojo Rinoza
Manila and Dagupan, Philippines
Philippines, Thailand Begin COVID-19 Vaccine Rollouts Pulmonary physician Eileen Aniceto receives a COVID-19 vaccine administered by Health Secretary Francisco Duque at the Lung Center of the Philippines, March 1, 2021.
Luis Liwanag/BenarNews

The Philippines began COVID-19 inoculations on Monday, even as concerns persisted among health workers about the efficacy of the vaccine being used, and President Rodrigo Duterte and his health secretary declined to be among the first to receive a shot of the Chinese-made drug.

Nearly 600,000 donated doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac arrived aboard a Chinese military transport plane on Sunday in a delivery praised by Duterte during a ceremony attended by government dignitaries.

“To my fellow Filipinos, please set your fears aside,” Duterte said Sunday, alluding to fears expressed by health workers about CoronaVac’s efficacy. “I encourage you to get vaccinated at the soonest possible time.”

In Thailand, the public health minister received that nation’s first coronavirus vaccination on Sunday, while Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who was to received one as well, decided to wait.

The Philippines was the last Southeast Asian country to get a vaccine, although it has the region’s second highest number of coronavirus infections and deaths. On Monday, the government recorded 2,037 new infections, bringing the total to 578,381. Four deaths brought the death toll to 12,322.

When asked whether he would be taking CoronaVac shots, Duterte said he had been advised by his doctor to wait for a different vaccine. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, 64, also did not get vaccinated, citing an advisory from health experts that people of advanced age should not be inoculated.

“I have my own doctor. She thinks that another brand – I will not mention it – that’s what she’s waiting for, that’s what I’m waiting for. I cannot just (opt for) an out-of-the-box vaccine, simply because I have to take care of my age,” said Duterte, 75. 

‘Based on science’

Dr. Gerardo Legaspi, head of the state-run Philippine General Hospital (PGH), received the first vaccine jab during a nationally televised event Monday. Vaccinations also took place at the military headquarters, at the Lung Center of the Philippines, and at three other sites.

“We decided on Sinovac based on science. I told the town hall meeting, let’s remove our view on the vaccine, separate from politics, party, administration, whatever belief. Let’s base it on clear science,” Legaspi said.

 “It may not be good in a lot of people’s opinion but if you examine it deeper, you will understand why I volunteered to be first to get vaccinated. Just like what I said, my view is based on data and nothing more,” he said.

A physician group at the hospital registered surprise that its staff was being offered CoronaVac, after the Philippines Food and Drugs Agency recommended against using it on healthcare workers due to its lower rate of efficacy on this group during testing in Brazil.

 “We recognize the efforts of the PGH administration in hastening the vaccination process for its constituents. However, the vaccination plan should have been handled with more prudence and transparency,” the group said. 

Thai vaccines

In Bangkok, Thai Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul received the first CoronaVac vaccine at Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute north of Bangkok on Sunday, after the nation received 200,000 doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech on Feb. 24. The government also received 117,000 doses of the British-Swedish AstraZeneca vaccine that same day.

Prayuth was to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, but that plan was postponed, according to the prime minister’s office.

On Monday, the national COVID task force said that medical personnel and people at greatest risk in nine provinces, including Samut Sakhon where migrant workers were blamed for an infections spike in December, received vaccinations. Nearly 76,000 doses were sent to the provinces, officials said.

Thailand, whose population is about 70 million, expects to receive 63 million doses largely from AstraZeneca and to vaccinate more than 30 million people by the end of 2021.

A nurse prepares a shot of the CoronaVac vaccine, developed by China’s Sinovac, as the first batch of vaccines to battle COVID-19 are administered to front-line health workers at the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Bangkok, Feb. 28, 2021. [AFP]

A nurse prepares a shot of the CoronaVac vaccine, developed by China’s Sinovac, as the first batch of vaccines to battle COVID-19 are administered to front-line health workers at the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Bangkok, Feb. 28, 2021. (AFP)

Demand for choice 

Karen Mae Faurillo, University of the Philippines workers’ union president, said health workers must be allowed to choose what vaccine they receive.

She said there was a “whopping drop” on vaccine acceptance among PGH workers, from 94 percent to 13 percent, “upon learning that Sinovac will be given instead of Pfizer.”

“We maintain that a safe and efficacious vaccine is what health workers deserve. We lament how the country lags behind its Southeast Asian counterparts in terms of vaccine roll-out,” she said.

On Monday, the government said another 1.5 million doses of Sinovac vaccines were to arrive this month, while a “massive inoculation program” was scheduled in the third and fourth quarter of 2021. 

Deliveries of vaccines from western pharmaceutical giants Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca would also arrive this month, the government said.

Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines, and Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok contributed to this report.


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