Health

Filipinos are skeptical of the Chinese Covid-19 vaccine


Filipinos and frontline doctors are skeptical of Covid-19 vaccine from Sinovac (China).

Since March 1, the Philippines started to vaccinate people in the context of the number of cases increasing rapidly. Images of Gerardo Legazpi, director of the Philippine General Hospital, the country’s first-line medical facility, received the first dose out of the 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccine (China), which was broadcast live. He urged colleagues and the public to “separate vaccines from political problems and the Duterte administration”.

The Philippines is one of the last countries in Southeast Asia to secure a supply of Covid-19 vaccine, although it is the worst affected region with more than 578,000 cases and at least 12,000 deaths. In the past 5 days, the country recorded an average of 2,000 new cases per day.

While vaccination is the hope of quelling the epidemic, experts warn the government to overcome public skepticism of the Chinese vaccine if it wants to launch the campaign successfully.

Filipinos have changed their attitudes significantly since authorities announced that frontline health workers will be vaccinated with a vaccine developed by Sinovac, instead of a product from Pfizer or AstraZeneca. According to the Association of Doctors of the General Hospital of this country, the rate of disagreement is 95%. While in the previous survey, 94% willingly vaccinated Pfizer or AstraZeneca. Doctors mainly believe that Sinovac provides lack of scientific data, has not yet announced the results of phase 3 testing.

Another question is where the fate of the 525,600 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which were promised to be delivered to the Philippines on March 1, are going. Health Minister Francisco Duque said the World Health Organization (WHO) has delayed distribution due to problems from supply.

President Rodrigo Duterte holds a vial of Sinovac’s Covid-19 vaccine. Image: Reuters

To increase confidence in vaccines, Director of the Food and Drug Administration Eric Domingo and infectious disease specialist, Dr. Maurice Edsel Salvana, injected the first dose on March 1. It is Mr. Domingo who is the emergency approver of Sinovac’s product. The accompanying approval recommends: only healthy individuals 18 to 59 years old should be vaccinated. The vaccine is not recommended for use by healthcare workers, regardless of age. Even so, many frontline nurses at the Philippine General Hospital have been vaccinated.

After the injection, Mr Domingo had no unusual problems. Dr. Salvana also studies the related data. He concluded that the Sinovac vaccine was safe and could prevent 100% of serious infections, 78% of average infections.

“We are trying to turn Covid-19 from a deadly illness to a common cold. We are going to get rid of the clutches of the virus,” said Salvana.

Hours later, he wrote on Twitter: “I am still alive! The arm is a bit painful but it is only the immune cells working, ready to make antibodies against Covid-19”.

Salvana says he feels “a bit tired but so far fine”. He also expressed happiness as one of the first to be vaccinated.

The Philippines General Hospital announced that it will provide an injection to nearby medical facilities. This hospital is dispensed 1,200 doses. At least 263 health workers at six state hospitals were vaccinated on March 1. 15 people experienced side effects, ranging from fainting to dizziness and headache.

A doctor said he hesitated to get the Sinovac vaccine. “If I use it and it doesn’t completely work, how can I be assured of spending time with my family?”.

Medical staff disinfected a barrel of Sinovac vaccine after being shipped to Manila.  Photo: AFP

Medical staff disinfected a barrel of Sinovac vaccine after being shipped to Manila. Image: AFP

Previously, many health experts have criticized the Philippine government for delivering inconsistent messages. They said that only one member of the senior cabinet of President Rodrigo Duterte and the commander of the Covid-19 task force, Carlito Galvez, had been vaccinated. Health Minister Francisco Duque said he did not take the vaccine because of his old age, although he had previously promised to participate in the vaccination. Mr. Duque is 64 years old this year.

China has used military aircraft to transport 600,000 doses of vaccine to the Philippines. The special envoy in Manila, Huang Xilian, said the mainland government gave the country 500,000 doses. The remaining 100,000 doses are gifts from the Chinese military.

According to Xilian, the vaccine distribution represents the cooperation between the two countries in fighting pandemic. It “not only represents the solidarity, friendship and partnership of the two countries, but also the will of both armies in the war with Covid-19”.

While skepticism could slow the vaccine campaign, experts fear, the military is more optimistic. Major General Edgard Arevalo, spokesman for the Armed Forces, said: “Immunization is not an option for members of the Armed Forces, it is a mission.”

Thuc Linh (Follow SCMP)

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