(UPDATED) President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday, February 28, 2021, expressed his gratitude to China for the donation of 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccine and encouraged Filipinos to get inoculated against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
“To my fellow Filipinos, please set your fears aside. These vaccines are backed by science and deliberated on by Filipino experts,” the President said in a speech following the ceremonial turnover of the first batch of vaccines to arrive in the country on Sunday.
“I encourage you to get vaccinated at the soonest possible time and be a partner in preventing the further spread of the disease,” he added.
Duterte led Philippine government officials in welcoming the vaccine donation from China, which arrived on board a Chinese military aircraft at the Villamor Air Base shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday. This is the first batch of vaccines to arrive in the country.
With its arrival, Duterte said he had high hopes of finally overcoming this public health crisis.
“With this very important shipment, I am confident that more batches of vaccines will be available at great dispatch until every Filipino will be given the chance to be vaccinated at the earliest possible opportunity,” he said.
“I wish to assure the public that your government remains committed to a timely rollout that will enable us to confidently reopen our society,” he added.
He directed all concerned government agencies to institutionalize the whole of government approach in the rollout of the vaccines.
“I cannot stress enough - we cannot afford to waste time or resources in the distribution of these vaccines because we are dealing with precious lives,” he said.
Duterte personally thanked Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, who led the turnover ceremony, for helping ensure the timely delivery of the vaccines.
“I convey my sincere gratitude to the Chinese people and the government of China for this gesture of friendship and solidarity, the hallmark of Philippine-China partnership,” Duterte said.
Duterte noted that while China also donated vaccines to other countries, it was only the Philippines that had the vaccines delivered by a Chinese military plane.
The President said he wants to go to China before the end of the year, and “when things have settled down,” to personally thank China President Xi Jinping and shake his hand.
Huang, for his part, said he hoped that the vaccines will help kick off the mass vaccination program in the Philippines and allow Filipinos to return to normal life soon.
He said China has sent donations to 53 countries and exported vaccines to 27 countries to show its determination to fight the pandemic in the spirit of solidarity.
He said China and the Philippines have traditionally helped each other in times of need.
"Despite the increase in domestic need for vaccines, China has decided to donate vaccines to the Philippines and more Chinese vaccines procured by the Philippines would arrive soon as expected," Huang said. The Philippines has also ordered 25 million doses from Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
"This not only shows the solidarity and friendship between our two countries and two peoples, but also signifies the intent of both militaries to... in fighting against Covid-19 and deepening our defense cooperation," he added.
Vaccinations in the Philippines are scheduled to kick off Monday, March 1, according to vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr.
Under the prioritization framework approved by the government, healthcare workers get the right of first refusal to receive the vaccine.
Duterte assured medical frontliners in the country that “the government will always be by your side, ready to help in any way we can.”
Duterte said he was grateful to the medical frontliners for their “valuable and selfless contribution” to the fight against Covid-19.
“We recognize the profound sacrifices that you continue to make every single day even at the cost of being away from your loved ones and risking your precious lives to take care of the sick,” the President said.
Aside from medical frontliners, the country’s uniformed men will also be prioritized since China had made the donation specifically for the armed forces.
The Sinovac inactivated vaccine is given in two doses four weeks apart to clinically healthy individuals who are 18 to 59 years old.
While clinical trials in Brazil showed an efficacy of only 50.38 percent among healthcare workers who deal with Covid-19 patients, these also showed that the Sinovac vaccine is 100 percent effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalization.
Meanwhile, Duterte said those who will get vaccinated first should continue practicing health and safety protocols while the country awaits the arrival of more vaccines.
The minimum public health standards include wearing of face masks and face shields, physical distancing and hand hygiene.
The government aims to vaccinate up to 70 million Filipinos against Covid-19 this year, include more than 24 million medical frontliners.
All Filipinos are targeted to be vaccinated by the end of 2023. (Marites Villamor-Ilano / SunStar Philippines)