TO INCREASE public confidence in the Sinovac vaccine donated by the Chinese government, retired general Melquiades Feliciano and Dr. Gerardo Aquino Jr. will be the first to be injected during a ceremonial inoculation in Cebu on Thursday, March 4, 2021.
Feliciano is chief implementer of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Visayas, while Aquino is chief of the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) in Cebu City.
Dr. Mary Jean Loreche, chief pathologist and spokesperson of the Department of Health (DOH) 7, said DOH 7 Director Dr. Jaime Bernadas will need to secure a doctor’s clearance since he is more than 59 years old.
The agency had advised that the China-made vaccine would only be administered to individuals in the 18-59 year-old bracket.
“I will have my vaccination after,” Loreche told SunStar Cebu in a text message on Tuesday, March 2.
Loreche said a total of 768 health care workers from the VSMMC will be inoculated using CoronaVac, the first Covid-19 vaccine to arrive in the country.
Cebu welcomed the arrival of 7,200 doses of CoronaVac intended for VSMMC health care workers Tuesday morning.
A total of 600,000 doses of the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine CoronaVac arrived in the country on Sunday, Feb. 28.
Aquino said they are targeting to finish the vaccination of their health care workers in seven days.
He believes this first batch of vaccine doses can cover the last or second dose required for complete vaccination.
He, however, admitted that some of the medical frontliners in VSMMC were apprehensive when they found out that the vaccine came from China.
The VSMMC has a total of 2,987 medical frontliners.
“It is not really ‘back out.’ Some of them, initially, mura’g dili kompyansa (they don’t appear to have confidence in the vaccine),” Aquino said.
Aquino said he is fine with whatever vaccine brand as long as people will be vaccinated.
Loreche said excess doses will be distributed among medical frontliners in DOH-retained hospitals in Central Visayas.
She also said they expect 7,000 more doses to arrive between March 4 to 8. These are still for medical frontliners in both private and government health facilities, she said.
“We have to understand nga dili g’yod tanan mahatagan karon (not everyone can be vaccinated now). We have to prioritize those working in Covid areas,” she said.
Joseph Stephen Descallar, Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) 7 governor, said what is important is that the vaccine is approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“The brand is just a secondary criterion, but safety is our utmost concern,” he said.
He said the earlier the vaccination, the earlier herd immunity will be achieved, which will give way to the reopening of the economy and the return to normal activities.
“The vaccination is not compulsory, but we encouraged our members to be vaccinated as long as there is a right to choose and the right to information,” he said.
PNA Cebu has around 2,000 members.
In a separate interview with the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas, Dr. Junjie Zuasula, head of DOH 7’s Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit, said there is a need to “maximize” the supply of Covid-19 vaccines in the country.
“Achieving herd immunity will take time. It will also depend on the supply of vaccines. But one thing is certain, we will achieve herd immunity in due time,” he said.
Loreche appealed to the public to remain cautious even after they get vaccinated. She emphasized the need to observe minimum health measures, such as the wearing of face masks.
“It doesn’t mean that if you get vaccinated, you no longer follow the minimum health protocols. This is our new normal already. Magpakabana gyud ta (We need to be careful),” she said.
Earlier, Dr. Van Phillip Baton, DOH 7 medical program coordinator for infectious diseases, said the DOH 7 targets to vaccinate 5,634,789 individuals in the region this year.
Meanwhile, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella said he understands if some Cebuanos don’t want to be injected with the Sinovac vaccine.
He said residents of Cebu City have the right to choose what brand of vaccine they want. That’s why the City Government is waiting for FDA approval before it can use the P400 million it has set aside to purchase the vaccine.
“As I have said before, we will give them the opportunity to choose. They have the right to refuse and wait for another vaccine brand that the City will purchase,” he said in a mix of Cebuano and English.
City Councilor Dave Tumulak, for his part, said he will be at the VSMMC on the first day of vaccination on March 4, adding that he will be among those who will be injected with the CoronaVac.
Although the vaccines are intended for medical frontliners of the hospital, Tumulak said he saw the need to personally feel its effects so he can share the information with the public.
In Mandaue City, the Vaccine Board has registered 1,616 medical workers out of the 2,000 priority target.
These medical workers are from government-owned medical facilities, private clinics and private medical facilities, excluding private hospitals.
Ernie Manatad, Vaccine Board chairman and president of the Association of Barangay Councils, said they will register local government unit frontliners and senior citizens next.
Manatad clarified that individuals can refuse to be vaccinated but they cannot refuse to be registered.
He said the Vaccine Board will start its information drive to make residents understand the importance of getting inoculated against Covid-19. (WBS, KFD, PAC / PJB)