By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporters
ONLY 1 of 10 health workers at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) want to get inoculated against the coronavirus using vaccines from Chinese drug maker Sinovac Biotech Ltd., according to a hospital spokesman.
Of 2,500 hospital staff who answered a poll, 12% were willing to take the shot, PGH spokesman Jose Jonas D. del Rosario said by telephone at the weekend.
“We are expecting the number to increase to 16% at the maximum,” he added. The government hospital has about 4,000 workers.
Vaccine rollout will start on Monday as the government took delivery of 600,000 CoronaVac doses donated by China on Sunday. President Rodrigo R. Duterte personally accepted the donation, which arrived at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City, according to the presidential palace.
Sinovac’s CoronaVac is one of the frontrunners in the vaccine race, along with shots developed by British drug maker AstraZeneca Plc, Russia’s Gameleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology, and America’s Pfizer, Inc., Moderna, Inc. and Johnson & Johnson.
It is the third coronavirus vaccine approved by the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use after the ones from Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
PGH will be among the first COVID-19 referral hospitals in the capital region to get China’s donation of 600,000 vials of CoronaVac. Hospitals in Cebu City and Davao City will also be prioritized for the shots.
Mr. del Rosario said the rollout scheduled for today would proceed despite the hesitancy among their employees to get vaccinated with the Chinese drug. The government was set to take delivery of the vaccines later on Sunday. “PGH asked for 1,000 doses of Sinovac,” he said.
‘FRIEND IN NEED’
In a statement at the weekend, a group of doctors at the state-owned hospital said the Chinese vaccine must undergo an appraisal before it is given to medical workers.
The PGH Physicians’ Association said they were surprised that their staff would be given Sinovac vaccines even if it got a “sweeping disapproval rate” of 95% among the community’s residents and fellows.
“PGH should set an example on how vaccination rollout should be executed in the country,” they said. “PGH should uphold the ideals of ethical and evidence-based medicine, for which it has been a bastion of.”
“Let us not lose sight of critical thinking, especially with matters relating to our own health by monitoring updates and developments in the COVID-19 vaccination,” they added.
Although the Chinese vaccine was approved by the country’s drug regulator, it was not recommended for health workers due to its low efficacy.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte was “perplexed” by the FDA’s initial recommendation not to use the vaccines on health workers, his spokesman Herminio “Harry” L. Roque said last week.
CoronaVac is only 50.2% effective among health workers, based on trials in Turkey. It was 65.3% to 91.2% effective among patients aged 18 to 59 years, based on trials in Indonesia.
An inter-agency task force ruled the Chinese vaccines may be given to health frontliners. Mr. Roque said CoronaVac is safe and would benefit health workers.
Mr. del Rosario said those who decline to get vaccinated with CoronaVac would still be prioritized once another brand of vaccines arrives. “Once AstraZeneca arrives and they want to receive it, they will get it.”
From the military air base, the CoronaVac vaccines would be transferred to at least six 40-footer trucks on the way to cold chain storage facilities at PGH in Manila and the Metropac Logistics in Marikina City, the Presidential Communications Operations Office said in a statement.
“It is a fine tradition between China and the Philippines to help each other in trying times,” Ambassador Huang Xilian said at turnover ceremonies on Sunday.
“Our two governments and peoples have helped each other and joined hands to fight the pandemic since the outbreak of the virus, forging a closer China-Philippines partnership. A friend in need is a friend indeed,” he added.
CoronaVac, an inactivated vaccine, can be stored in a standard refrigerator at 2-8 degrees Celsius.
Of the first batch, 100,000 vials will be donated to the Philippine military. The rest will be used on health workers in coronavirus referral hospitals in the National Capital Region, Cebu City and Davao City.
“Inoculating as many people as possible at the soonest possible time will significantly boost consumer confidence and accelerate economic recovery,” Financial Executives of the Philippines President Francisco Ed Lim said in a statement.
The Department of Health (DoH) reported 2,113 coronavirus infections on Sunday, bringing the total to 576,352. The death toll rose by 29 to 12,318, while recoveries increased by 9,418 to 534,271, it said in a bulletin.
There were 29,763 active cases, 88.7% of which were mild, 5.3% did not show symptoms, 2.6% were critical, 2.5% were severe and 0.93% were moderate.
The agency said eight duplicates had been removed from the tally, while 10 recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. One laboratory failed to submit its data on Feb. 27.
More than 8.2 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Feb. 26, according to DoH’s tracker website.