Philippines launches virus vaccinations amid supply problems

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) — The Philippine Government launched a vaccination campaign yesterday to contain one of Southeast Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks but faces supply problems and public resistance, which it hopes to ease by inoculating top officials.

Cabinet officials, along with health workers and military and police personnel, were among the first to be vaccinated at six hospitals in Metropolitan Manila, after the arrival on Sunday of 600,000 doses of vaccine donated by China.

At the state-run Philippine General Hospital in Manila, Hospital Director Dr Gerardo Legaspi was inoculated first in a televised event and was followed by Cabinet and Department of Health officials.

“Let’s get vaccinated, let’s save lives every day. We need to move on,” Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said in a speech at the hospital, adding he would get vaccinated in about a week after the health workers.

The Philippines was among the last Southeast Asian countries to receive vaccines due to delivery delays, although it has reported more than 578,300 infections, including 12,322 deaths, the second-highest totals in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. Lockdowns and quarantine restrictions have set back the country’s economy in one of the worst recessions in the region and sparked unemployment and hunger.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte poses with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian infront of a military place carrying Sinovac vaccines from China at the Villamor Air Base in Manila. PHOTO: AP

“Our economy is really down, so the earlier these vaccinations gain speed, the better,” President Rodrigo Duterte told a televised news conference late Sunday after witnessing the delivery of the vaccines at an air base in the capital.

Duterte said he was considering a further easing of quarantine restrictions in the capital and elsewhere once the vaccination campaign gains momentum. With just 600,000 doses available, yesterday’s immunisations were billed as symbolic.

Aside from the donated vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd, the government has ordered 25 million more doses from the company but no date has been set for the deliveries.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the arrival of an initial 525,600 doses of vaccine from AstraZeneca that was initially scheduled for yesterday would be delayed by a week due to supply problems.

China’s donation is a tiny fraction of at least 148 million doses the government has been negotiating to secure from Western and Asian companies to vaccinate about 70 million Filipinos for free in a massive campaign funded by foreign and domestic loans. Most of the shipments are expected to arrive later this year amid a global scramble for COVID-19 vaccines.