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MANILA – Over 600,000 doses of a Covid-19 vaccine from China arrived in the Philippines on Sunday (Feb 28), finally enabling an immunisation programme that has been the last to kick off in South-east Asia.
President Rodrigo Duterte himself was at the airport on Sunday to receive the shipment from Sinovac.
Another 500,000 doses from British firm AstraZeneca are set to land on Monday (March 1).
“With the arrival of vaccines from Sinovac and AstraZeneca on Sunday and Monday, the country’s vaccine rollout formally starts… I am encouraging every Filipino to get vaccinated,” Mr Carlito Galvez, the government’s “vaccination czar”, said in a statement.
The first doses would be given at six hospitals on Monday, with the country’s top ministers already lined up to get their jabs.
Mr Galvez himself would receive the first jab, followed by Health Secretary Francisco Duque.
“This is to assure that all vaccines to be given to our citizens are safe and effective,” said Mr Galvez.
But most of the staff at the Philippine General Hospital, one of the six hospitals in the initial roll-out, have opted to wait for a vaccine other than those coming from China.
“I signed up for Pfizer, so I’m going to wait for that,” a nurse at the hospital told The Straits Times.
President Rodrigo Duterte will probably get his vaccination later as well, as Sinovac’s vaccine is not recommended for people in his age group, his close aide, Senator Bong Go, said in a radio interview.
The government had been under mounting pressure to begin doling out vaccines to its population of over 100 million, amid accusations that it bungled the procurement and delivery of doses.
While it has South-east Asia’s second-biggest Covid-19 outbreak at more than half a million infections and over 10,000 deaths, the Philippines is the last nation in the region to begin an inoculation programme against Covid-19.
Mr Roque said this was not a big deal.
“It was just a matter of days,” he said on Friday, referring to the delay.