The Philippines received 600,000 vaccine doses from China Sunday, kickstarting the country’s inoculation drive despite concerns over the Sinovac jab’s effectiveness.
Top government officials and health workers will be the first on Monday to receive the Chinese-made vaccine — called CoronaVac — just days after the drug regulator approved it for emergency use.
President Rodrigo Duterte, whose government has been under fire over delays in procuring vaccines, oversaw the delivery of the doses at a military air base.
Around 525,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab were also due to arrive Monday as part of the COVAX global inoculation programme and will also be offered to healthcare workers.
The regulator did not recommend CoronaVac for healthcare workers due to its comparatively low efficacy.
An advisory group to the Philippine government allowed it to be offered to those willing to take it, but many nurses and doctors are reluctant and have opted to wait for other vaccines.
In the Philippine General Hospital, one of the country’s main facilities treating Covid-19 patients, only 10 percent of staff were willing to be inoculated with the Chinese-made vaccine, spokesman Jonas Del Rosario told AFP.
It was far from the 94 percent who registered to take the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, said Del Rosario, who himself opted not to take the CoronaVac shot.
The hesitancy is not new in the Southeast Asian nation, which has struggled with vaccine programmes in recent years.
The Philippines was the first country in 2016 to deploy the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia, but a botched rollout led to unfounded claims that several dozen children had died from the jab.
Recent surveys have shown vaccine confidence remains low, with almost half of the population reportedly unwilling to be inoculated against the coronavirus.
To boost trust, several top officials — including the health minister — are expected to receive the CoronaVac jab.
President Duterte, who has defended Chinese-made vaccines, suggested he will be inoculated in public, having previously said he would receive it in private.
But the 75-year-old leader’s doctors are still deciding which vaccine to use for him.
The rollout came as the number of daily new infections in the Philippines hit a four-month high. More than 570,000 cases have been confirmed, including over 12,000 deaths.
Aside from hospital workers, the military is set to receive 100,000 Sinovac doses.
Members of the Philippines armed forces are required to get vaccinated and those who refuse could be disciplined.
The government is in talks with seven vaccine makers, including Sinovac, in the hope of securing enough doses to inoculate 70 million people — about 60 percent of the population — this year.
But the bulk of the supply is not expected to start arriving until the summer.