President Duterte welcomed the arrival of the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from China, saying he was confident that more doses would soon be available “until every Filipino will be given the chance to be vaccinated.”
In a ceremony to mark the arrival of 600,000 doses of the CoronaVac vaccine at Villamor Air Base, the President thanked China profusely for the donation, saying “the gesture of friendship and solicarity” highlighted how vaccines should be treated as a global public good and made available to all, rich and poor countries alike.
“No nation – no people – should be left to suffer the ravages of this pandemic for whatever reason,” Duterte said. “Comprehensive global recovery hinges on equal and easy access by everyone to life-saving vaccines because, at the end of the day… no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
“Countries must therefore continue working together and do everything humanly possible to ensure a good outcome for every person,” he added.
Duterte said with the mass vaccination, the country may be back to normal “maybe in the first or second quarter of 2023, with the help of God.”
Sec. Carlito Galvez Jr., the country's vaccine czar, said the vaccine rollout would begin Monday with the arrival of the CoronaVac doses.
A shipment of 525,600 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca was supposed to arrive today (Monday) through the World Health Organization-led COVAX Facility, a global sharing mechanism for pooled procurement and equitable access for COVID-19 jabs. That has been moved back a week, however, because of supply problems.
The President, his former aide Senator Christopher Go, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Galvez, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and other Cabinet officials welcomed the country's initial vaccine supply at the airbase with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian and other Chinese diplomats.
Duterte said he would like to make a short visit to Beijing soon to personally thank Chinese President Xi Jinping for the donation.
“China has donated several vaccines to several countries but it is only the donation made to the Philippines that was carried by a Chinese government plane. Other countries had to go to China to get their vaccine supply. But China sent our supply to us.”
“I convey my sincere gratitude to the Chinese people and the government of China for this gesture of friendship and solidarity, the hallmarks of Philippine-China partnership,” Duterte said.
The shipment arrived on a Chinese Y-20 Transporter aircraft a little past 4:00 p.m. Sunday. The first shots will be distributed to several hospitals across Metro Manila on Monday, officially staring the vaccine rollout that was supposed to have begun in the middle of February.
In his remarks, the President also thanked Galvez for working “very, very hard” and the Chinese ambassador for helping ensure the timely delivery of the donation—even though the shipment was supposed to have arrived five days earlier, on Feb. 23.
An initial batch of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer was supposed to arrive even before the Chinese shipment, in mid-February and has not yet been delivered, delayed by the lack of an indemnification fund to compensate persons who suffer adverse effects after being inoculated.
Later Sunday, Duque and Galvez also admitted that a shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines would be delayed by a week because of supply problems.
Duterte did not remark on these delays, however.
“I wish to assure the public that your government remains committed to a timely [vaccine] roll out that will enable us to confidently reopen our society,” he said. “The delivery of this first batch, I hope, will serve as a guarantee to everyone that we are taking a big step in our efforts to overcome this health crisis.”
He ended his address by thanking medical frontliners and urging the public to have confidence in the vaccines, which are backed by science and deliberated on by Filipino experts.
He also reminded the public to continue practicing health and safety protocols while waiting for the final approval of all the vaccines.
“Remember to wear masks, wash hands and observe social distancing. Your cooperation here is key and will undoubtedly save numerous lives along the way,” he said.
The initial batch of 600,000 doses was initially expected to arrive on Feb. 23, but delivery was pushed back due to the lack of an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which was only released Feb. 22.
The military will get 100,000 doses from the donation and the rest will go to select health workers of the country, which has recorded 574,247 total COVID-19 cases as of Saturday and has lagged behind its Southeast Asian neighbors in securing the vaccines.
Sinovac's CoronaVac is the third vaccine to secure an EUA from the FDA after those from AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech, but the regulator does not recommend the vaccine for health workers due to its lower efficacy rate of 50.4 percent in the sector.
The FDA said it is best for healthy individuals aged 18 to 59, but has since clarified that despite its recommendation, medical frontliners who wish to avail of the vaccine may do so.
The interim National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) on Friday announced it was recommending the administration of CoronaVac to health workers despite a 50.4 percent efficacy rate when it was given to medical frontliners exposed to COVID-19 during trials in Brazil.
The government has allocated P82.5 billion for its state vaccination program: P70 billion from loans, P10 billion from the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, and P2.5 billion from the 2021 Department of Health (DOH) budget.
Reports of smuggled doses and VIP vaccinations have hounded the country's delayed inoculation drive.
The government expects the bulk of the country's COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in the third and the fourth quarters of 2021.
Shots developed by Sinovac, Pfizer-BioNTech, and AstraZeneca have emergency use authorizations in the Philippines.
The country's drug regulator also allowed the "compassionate use" of 10,000 doses of Chinese state firm Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine for Duterte's security detail, many of whom illegally received the same product as early as September last year.
A number of hospitals have begun preparing to receive and manage the first batch of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine.
The Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila will receive some of the vaccines.
PGH spokesperson Dr. Jonas del Rosario said that their employees will be given priority in the vaccination rollout.
Even though only 12 percent of their frontliners expressed willingness to get inoculated with Sinovac vaccines, Del Rosario said the hospital will take advantage of the opportunity to get the first batch of the doses.
Del Rosario said health care workers who are off-duty will be scheduled to receive the vaccines first.
The vaccination will be conducted at UP Atrium.
The Veterans Memorial Medical Center is on standby waiting for the arrival of the vaccines from Sinovac.
Frontliners of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are also set to receive the vaccines.
The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) deployed some personnel to ensure the security of the vaccines.
Local pharmaceutical firm Glovax Biotech Corp., meanwhile, announced plans to bring in 40 million doses of 2nd generation COVID vaccine at half the price of other more known COVID vaccine brands, while it waits for the negotiations for the P7 billion vaccine plant here to bear fruit.
Glovax president and CEO Giovanni Alingog said the its partnership with Korea-based Eubiologics and LG Chem, a subsidiary of the LG Group in Korea, will help deliver the affordable vaccines to the Philippines.
“Glovax’s partnership with our Korean partners allowed us to reserve as much as 40 million doses of the vaccine, which should be available six months from now,” Alingog said.
Glovax will be carrying the brand of Eubiologics which was developed in Western New York, USA by POP Biotechnologies and has been approved for human clinical trials. EuCorVac-19 will be mass-produced by Eubiologics and LG Chem in a new facility in Korea.
Glovax and Eubiologics is in the process of applying for the emergency use authorization (EUA). The South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety had approved the combined phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials in January 2021.
Glovax is working out the details for manufacturing the vaccine in the Philippines by constructing a local facility as it partners with the National Development Corp. (NDC) and other private partners to raise equity for the project.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has already endorsed the project to the Board of Investments for evaluation as well as for financing guidelines.
Alingog said Glovax proposes to produce the next generation COVID vaccine and the Pentavalent Vaccine in partnership with Korean partners. Eubiologics and LG Chem are both Pre-Qualified Vaccine (PQV) manufacturers, which means that both companies are traditional vaccine manufacturers with a track record in making vaccines.
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