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Officials, frontliners first to get COVID-19 jabs

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, who urged the public not to wait for the “best” vaccine and to avail themselves of the jabs, showed “leadership by example” when he received CoronaVac vaccine, developed by China’s Sinovac, at the Philippine General Hospital to boost people’s confidence in the government’s campaign. (Boy Santos)

MANILA, Philippines — Almost a year after the entire Luzon was placed under enhanced community quarantine, the government rolled out yesterday its vaccination program against COVID-19 with several ranking officials getting the first jabs.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, who urged the public not to wait for the “best” vaccine and to avail themselves of the jabs, showed “leadership by example” when he received CoronaVac vaccine, developed by China’s Sinovac, at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) to boost people’s confidence in the government’s campaign.

He admitted getting emotional when he saw the first batch of shipment of CoronaVac, saying “at last, the doses of hope that we have been waiting for have already arrived.” “We, Secretary Duque have been very emotional because the pressure is on us and it unburdened a lot of our sacrifices. We are really very happy because at least we already have the vaccines for our health workers,” said Galvez, who delayed his vaccination until the end of the program to ensure that health workers would go first.

He encouraged the public to trust Sinovac, pointing out that Filipinos could not return to normal life and the economy would not be able to recover if people refuse to get immunized and prefer Western vaccines, which would come later this year.

“We should not wait for the so-called best vaccine. There is no best vaccine because the best vaccines are those which are effective and efficient and come early,” Galvez stressed.

Also among those inoculated yesterday were National Task Force against COVID-19 deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon at the Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Sanitarium (formerly Tala Hospital) in Caloocan City and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chairman Benhur Abalos at the PGH.

Although Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana wanted to be among the first to receive the Sinovac vaccine to build trust and confidence among personnel in the Department of National Defense, he gave in to the advice of doctors who said those above 59 years old should not be inoculated.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, 64, was also not given a jab, but he administered the vaccine to some doctors during a symbolic vaccination at the Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP) in Quezon City.

The Department of Health said the secretary “will be vaccinated when the appropriate vaccine becomes available.”

In a speech, Duque urged health care workers to allow themselves to be immunized against COVID-19, giving assurance that all vaccines evaluated by the Vaccine Expert Panel and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are safe and effective.

“Millions of people have already received donated Sinovac vaccines, not only in China but in 53 other countries. And based on latest data, the ‘adverse event following immunization (AEFI)’ rate is two to five per million doses. It means that’s the only risk for AEFI,” he said.

The “benefit versus risk ratio” of getting a jab against COVID-19 shows benefits far outweigh the risks, he added.

The Philippines received last Sunday 600,000 doses of vaccines manufactured by the Chinese drug-maker Sinovac, the first COVID-19 jabs to be delivered in the country.

A recent survey by OCTA Research indicated that only 19 percent of adult Filipinos are willing to be inoculated against COVID-19 while 46 percent prefer to pass due to safety concerns.

Speaking at the ceremonial vaccination of health care workers at PGH, Galvez said getting a COVID-19 shot is a “moral obligation.”

“There is no such thing as best vaccine because the best vaccine is the one that is effective and efficient and that which arrive earlier. This is a moral obligation of everyone. All of us should get ourselves vaccinated and let us not wait for what they call the best vaccine,” he said, noting that some vaccines with high efficacy rates would not be available until the third or fourth quarter.

The efficacy rate of Sinovac-developed vaccines only stood at 50.4 percent among health workers who were exposed to COVID-19 but officials have maintained it is still effective against the virus. They have also noted that the World Health Organization has set a 50 percent threshold for vaccine efficacy.

First in line

The 59-year-old Dr. Eileen Aniceto – the most senior physician among 19 other pulmonologists at the LCP – was the first to receive a shot of CoronaVac that Duque personally administered.

All 20 health workers who have been handling COVID-19 patients at the LCP received their COVID-19 jabs yesterday.

“This vaccine, in case you do get COVID-19, will give you a better chance of surviving this infection,” Aniceto told reporters after receiving her jab.

Delays on the delivery of vaccines muffled rising public anticipation but the arrival of Sinovac doses wasn’t particularly a cause for excitement either, especially for health care workers on top of the priority list of vaccine recipients.

Several health professionals have begged off from receiving CoronaVac in several hospitals in Metro Manila. At the LCP, about 90 percent of all its medical staff have agreed to receive vaccines if these were Pfizer’s.

“When we started our preparations for the vaccination, 90 percent agreed when it was Pfizer,” said Dr. Vincent Balanag Jr., LCP’s executive director.

Dr. Chette Moje, LCP’s vaccination task force chief, said that as of yesterday only 140 hospital staff members gave their consent to receive CoronaVac. The LCP received 600 doses.

Balanag said there are about 1,400 health care workers in LCP.

“When we learned it’s Sinovac, of course, we all know the discussions on this one, that’s why we had a town hall meeting the day after we learned it’s Sinovac and we were told that Sinovac has its advantages,” he said.

For Dr. Edward Cervales, a fellow at the Department of Pulmonology, it was a personal decision not to wait for Pfizer vaccines that he and thousands of other colleagues in the region were supposed to receive last month.

“If ever we wouldn’t get vaccinated with the vaccine we have now, we wouldn’t promote more public trust in the vaccination program and I think it’s about time we move forward,” he said before receiving the jab.

“It’s my personal decision to at least set an example also. Because we’ve been treating COVID-19 for almost a year and I think this is somewhat the cure eventually so physicians have to start somewhere, somehow,” he added.

Health care workers from COVID-19 referral hospitals in Metro Manila were supposed to have received Pfizer vaccines about two weeks ago when the government said the rollout of the first batch of vaccines from the Covax Alliance would arrive, only to be snagged by the lack of an indemnity deal.

But Dr. Alfonso Victorino Famaran Jr., medical director of the DJNRMHS or Tala Hospital in Caloocan City, believed that the vaccine he received yesterday would give him the “soonest protection” against the virus even though he would have preferred another brand.

“My reason why I chose to inoculate myself with Sinovac is because I will grab the first opportunity to have myself protected against COVID-19,” he said.

At the Philippine National Police, PNP General Hospital chief Lt. Col. Cleto Manongas was the first police officer to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, followed by Health Service director Brig. Gen. Luisito Magnaye and PNPGH deputy chief Lt. Col. Raymond Ona.

At least 200 PNP personnel from the Health Service were vaccinated yesterday while 600 more in the coming days are expected to be inoculated with Sinovac jabs.

PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas said no one from the police force has backed out from receiving the China-made vaccines and the police force would be prioritizing personnel assisting in the distribution of vaccines, members of the medical reserve force and others directly dealing with COVID-19 patients.

“We are very vulnerable because we are one of the agencies spearheading the security and assisting (in the vaccination program),” he said yesterday, adding that the PNP wants to assist the government in achieving herd immunity.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco will lead the House of Representatives officials to be inoculated when the vaccine allocation for the chamber arrives.

“Our election leaders should be at the forefront to be able to show the people that we really need the vaccine and that this is really necessary for us to be able to control and contain the pandemic,” he said. – Michael Punongbayan, Alexis Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano, Ghio Ong, Neil Jayson Servallos, Delon Porcalla

Related video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bklAqDu1oss&feature=emb_logo&ab_channel=philstarnews

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