MANILA: Filipino officials have expressed optimism that the country would gradually return to its progressive track in curbing the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as the Philippines launched a nationwide vaccination program on Monday.
“No one will be left behind,” said Carlito Galvez Jr., chief implementor of the National Task Force Against COVID-19, during the launch of the campaign at the state-run University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH).
The government aims to inoculate at least 1.4 million health workers this month. It is working to secure 161 million doses of vaccines from various manufacturers.
Besides the 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccines donated by China on Sunday, Galvez said the country expects to receive 3.5 million doses of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines from the COVAX facility within the first quarter of this year.
Another 1.5 million doses of the Sinovac vaccines, which are part of the 25 million doses procured by the government, are also expected to be delivered in March.
The vaccination campaign is expected to gather steam in the third and fourth quarter of this year.
Dr. Gerardo Legaspi, head of UP-PGH, was the first Filipino to be vaccinated on Monday, with the event broadcast live via government network PTV-4.
Legaspi expressed hope that by getting inoculated in public, he would encourage other health workers to follow suit. Recent surveys have shown low confidence levels among UP-PGH personnel for the Sinovac vaccine.
Legaspi stressed that the “Sinovac vaccine was safe” and assured his fellow frontliners that the Food and Drug Administration and the Vaccine Expert Panel “will not approve a vaccine for use unless it has been proven safe and effective.”
In a press briefing soon after his vaccination, Legaspi said he “felt like crying as he remembered his friends and colleagues who died of COVID-19.”
He added: “This is not the best vaccine for many, but if you look closely, one will understand why I was the first to volunteer to receive this vaccine.”
Meanwhile, Dr Ma. Dominga Padilla, clinical associate professor at the UP College of Medicine, said several fellow doctors had “turned emotional at the event.”
She added: “There is a lot of false news (about the vaccines), but when it’s the director who gets vaccinated first, that is a very, very strong statement.”
Padilla added that the reason she had volunteered to get vaccinated was “to erase fears of the adverse effects of COVID-19 vaccines,” which would not be possible “unless they see their doctors get vaccinated first.”
Galvez emphasized the importance of vaccinations for the country to return to normalcy.
“We will not return to our normal life if we don’t get ourselves vaccinated. It’s a moral obligation of each of us,” Galvez said.
“Let’s not wait for the best vaccine. There is no such vaccine because the best vaccine is the one that is effective and efficient and has already arrived,” he added.
Simultaneous programs in select hospitals across the capital region, Metro Manila, followed the UP-PGH vaccine rollout.
Meanwhile, several Filipinos welcomed the vaccine initiative as a step in the right direction.
“Finally, the government has started the vaccination program. It is something that should have been done before so that we can return to normal,” Leonard Postrado, a senior PR manager, told Arab News.
“I’m willing to be vaccinated as long as I know that the drug is effective. So yes to vaccination, but no to the Chinese drug that is less effective,” he added.
Roy Gascon, a trader whose business was disrupted by the pandemic, agreed: “As a small business owner, we are definitely excited about the vaccine. This will give the local government units and the national government the go signal to reopen all establishments and allow customers to come in and buy our products once again.”
Another businessman, Robert Cua, said he was willing to be inoculated with the Chinese vaccine.
However, he pointed out that for everything to return to normal, the government needed to procure 200 million doses of vaccines for its population of more than 100 million.
Duterte on Sunday said that he would begin easing community quarantine restrictions across the country once the campaign was launched.
“The earlier we can hasten the (vaccination) the better, and the only way to do it is to open the economy and for businesses to regroup,” he said.