The arrival of more than 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines starting Sunday officially kicks off the national vaccination program, National Task Force against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said.
"With the arrival of vaccines from Sinovac and AstraZeneca on Sunday and Monday, respectively, the country’s vaccine rollout formally starts," Galvez said in a statement.
A total of 600,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Sinovac — a donation from China — are expected to arrive at the Villamor Airbase on Sunday afternoon, of which 100,000 doses will be allocated to the Philippine military.
President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to personally welcome the arrival of the Chinese vaccines, according to his former close aide, Senator Christopher "Bong" Go.
On Monday, 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine will also be delivered to the Philippines around noontime, said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque. The AstraZeneca delivery was part of the first round of allocated doses from the COVAX facility.
Galvez said the initial doses of vaccines will be administered at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and other major hospitals. PGH and Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City have begun preparing to receive and manage the first batch of vaccine arrivals.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Galvez are set to receive Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine shots on Monday morning to boost public confidence in the vaccine, Senator Christopher "Bong" Go said Sunday.
Prior to the expected arrival of the vaccines, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had granted Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines emergency use authorization (EUA).
“Ito po ay isang pagpapatunay na ang lahat ng mga bakuna na ating ituturok sa ating mga kababayan ay ligtas at epektibo,” Galvez said.
"Kaya’t hinihikayat po namin ang ating mga kababayang Pilipino na magparehistro na sa kanilang mga barangay at upang kayo ay makapagpabakuna na,” he added.
The PGH Physicians' Association, however, said the Sinovac vaccine should undergo further appraisal by the Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) before being administered to healthcare workers.
The association said the expected administration of the Sinovac vaccine at PGH was met with a “sweeping disapproval rate of 95 percent” among the hospital's residents and fellows.
Although Sinovac was given EUA by the FDA, it was not recommended for healthcare workers due to its lower efficacy rate of 50.4% for the group.
Still, the Department of Health has said the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group has agreed to recommend Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccines for health workers.
“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 PGH Physicians' Association said.
“As the national university hospital, PGH should set an example on how vaccination rollout should be executed in the country. PGH should uphold the ideals of ethical and evidence-based medicine, for which it has been a bastion of,” it added.
Last Friday, Duterte also signed into law the Vaccination Program Act of 2021 which would expedite the rollout of the country's vaccination program against COVID-19.
The measure also provides a P500-million indemnity fund for individuals who will experience adverse effects after getting the jab.
Galvez welcomed the passage of the law, saying that it would provide flexibility and indemnity in the procurement and administration of the vaccines.
"[With this], we shall be able to accelerate the implementation of our national vaccination program and finally put an end to this health crisis and revive our nation’s economy," he said.
The Philippines targets to inoculate 50 to 70 million individuals within the year. —KG, GMA News