MANILA, Philippines – For government officials, hundreds of COVID-19 injections given to health workers Monday as the country launched a delayed vaccination campaign promised the end of one of Asia’s most stubborn coronavirus epidemics.
But the country’s failure to ensure an early supply of better vaccines has not been lost even among health workers who have voluntarily made Chinese-made CoronaVac injections that have been found to be effective only 50.4 percent among people like them who have directly dealt with coronavirus cases and were therefore with a high risk of catching COVID-19.
Most of them, including Dr. Eileen Aniceto, 59, head of the Department of Emergency Medicine and Ambulance at the Philippine Pulmonary Center in Quezon City, applied to receive the U.S. vaccine Pfizer, which along with U.S. vaccine pharmaceutical company Moderna had the highest efficacy rating. among the stings of COVID-19 candidates, with 90 percent.
But after watching many of her patients die from severe respiratory illness, Aniceto decided to prepare for that vaccine that first arrived in the Philippines.
“I saw a lot of patients who died isolated in their rooms, without their relatives next to them,” said Aniceto, a pulmonologist. “[Dying alone] is worse than just dying. “
Thus, on Monday, Aniceto was the first in line at the Lung Center to take over CoronaVac, of which 600,000 doses were donated by China to the Philippines, and on Sunday they were delivered by a Chinese military aircraft.
Aniceto was received by CoronaVac from Health Minister Francisco Duque III, who was disqualified from receiving a sting from Chinese Sons Biotech, after exceeding the maximum age for him, 59. Duque is 64 years old.
Approximately 20 other pulmonary center workers, mostly members of the pulmonary department staff, took CoronaVac recordings.
Dr. Vincent Balanag, executive director of the Lung Center, said the hospital is expected to receive 600 doses of CoronaVac, which will be given to 300 workers, during the week.
So far, however, only 150 hospital employees have signed up for free stings, as more than 90 percent of Lung Center staff have expressed a preference for the Pfizer vaccine, Balanag said.
“But we are confident we can board more people,” he added.
In a speech at the launch of the vaccination campaign, Duque called on the staff of the Lung Center to “stop worrying and fearing” CoronaVaca, who stressed that he had received approval for emergency use from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“The benefit-risk ratio [for CoronaVac] is really significant, ”he said.“ This is the key to getting our feelings back [normality]. “
Whatever is available
“The best vaccine,” Duque added, quoting American epidemiologist Anthony Fauci, “is a vaccine that is available.”
Lung Center is a key fortress in the battle against COVID-19 in the Philippines. It is one of only three referral hospitals for COVID-19 in the country. The other two are the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila and the Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital (also known as Tala Hospital) in Caloocan, which, along with three other hospitals in Metro Manila, also received doses of CoronaVac for their workers.
Only 178 of the 1,911 health workers at Tala Hospital decided to be vaccinated with CoronaVac. Dr. Alfonso Victorino Famaran Jr., the hospital’s chief, said 90 percent of hospital staff preferred the Pfizer vaccine.
Famaran said the hospital had received 600 doses of CoronaVac, of which only about 400 would be used. The rest would go to other government hospitals for its own staff ready to receive the Chinese vaccine.
Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., who leads procurement for the government’s vaccination program, filmed CoronaVac at PGH, where he announced that the Philippines would receive a million doses more vaccine at a cost of P700 million.
Funds for supplies, Galvez said, were ready and the purchase order would be signed soon. The vaccines will be delivered in two batches, he said.
Galvez lashed out at critics who he said were spreading “false news” that CoronaVac was not good.
Vaccination is a “moral obligation of all,” Galvez said. “We shouldn’t wait for what we call the best vaccine. . . The best vaccine is the effective and efficient one that has already arrived, ”he said.
The CoronaVac shootings, according to Galvez, were “doses of hope.”
Dr. Gerardo Legaspi, director of PGH, and Eric Domingo, head of the FDA, were also vaccinated with CoronaVac.
The Philippines is catching up with its neighbors from Southeast Asia, despite having one of the worst coronavirus problems in the region.
The latter began its immunization program due to delays in procurement, and when it finally began its vaccination process, amid a new rush of COVID-19 cases.
On Monday, the Ministry of Health (DOH) reported 2,037 additional coronavirus infections, the fifth consecutive day of daily cases counting more than 2,000.
Recent infections have led to confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country to a total of 578,381.
Four more patients died, increasing the death toll to 12,322, the DOH said.
Another 86 patients were said to have recovered, bringing the number of COVID-19 survivors to 534,351.
That left the country with 31,708 active cases, of which, DOH said, 89.3 percent were mild, 5 percent asymptomatic, 0.89 percent moderate, 2.3 percent severe and 2.5 percent critical.
The country expected a larger vaccination launch, but delivery of 500,000 doses of AstraZenec vaccine from the global procurement fund COVAX, scheduled for Sunday, was delayed by a week due to supply problems.
Galvez said there is a “very acute shortage” of vaccines due to strong competition among supply countries.
To get vaccines, he said, the Philippines offers to pay more. “We’re walking the price we should have [the manufacturers] deliver [the vaccines] early, ”he said.
Galvez said talks with AstraZenec, whose vaccine had been ordered by many local governments, were already over.
He said he would resume talks with Moderna on Monday and later with Johnson & Johnson. The following week, he said he would travel to India to sign contracts to supply Novavax and Covishield vaccines produced by the Indian Serum Institute. Covishield is the trademark in India of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The government, Galvez said, expects to receive about 5.1 million doses of the vaccine in the first quarter – 600,000 doses of CoronaVac have already been donated by China, 1 million more doses of the same injection have yet to be procured and 3.5 million doses of COVAX- And.
U.S. Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez said in a television interview Monday that the Philippines has booked 6 million doses of the disposable Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which has just received emergency use approval from the U.S. FDA.
“We’re talking to Johnson & Johnson … we’ve booked 6 million doses,” Romualdez said. “They will arrive in the second half of this year.”
The government intends to vaccinate 70 million of the 108 million inhabitants this year to achieve herd immunity and reopen the economy, which recorded its worst decline in 2020, largely due to strict restrictions on movement since March last year.
Galvez said the projected stockpile in the first quarter would be good for 1.7 million health workers and government workers.
Of the 600,000 doses of CoronaVac that arrived on Sunday, 100,000 doses went into the military as reported by China.
Of the funds allocated to the military, 30,000 doses went to the bureau of the Department of National Defense, and 70,000 to the armed forces of the Philippines.
In defense offices, Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana said only about 14,000 people out of 29,000 staff were ready or entitled to shoot at CoronaVac.
By 3 p.m. Monday, 353 health workers, Department of Defense employees and their families were vaccinated at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.
“We targeted 1,000 people a day,” said hospital director Dr. Dominador Chiong.
Lorenzana said she wanted to be vaccinated, but Chiong discouraged him because he was over 60 years old.
The Philippine National Police received 800 doses of CoronaVac. General Debold Sinas, the head of the PNP, said those doses would be given to police health workers.
Cabinet Secretary Carlo Nograles said vaccines from the Sinovac shipment would be sent Thursday and Friday to the Vicente Sotto Memorial Hospital in Cebu City and to the Medical Center in the southern Philippines in Davao City to begin the immunization campaign there. (See related story in Regions, page A5.)
—FROM THE REPORTS OF JEROME ANING, JODEE A. AGONCILLO, DONA Z. PAZZIBUGAN, TINA G. SANTOS, MARICAR CINCO, MEG ADONIS, JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE, AFP AND REUTERS
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