MANILA, Philippines (AP) – The Philippines received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines on Sunday, the last in Southeast Asia to deliver critical doses despite the second-highest number of deaths from coronavirus infections and deaths in the region.
A Chinese military transport plane carrying 600,000 vaccines donated by China has arrived at the capital’s air base. President Rodrigo Duterte’s top government officials expressed their condolences and thanked Beijing for its honorary vaccine from China-based Sinovats Biotech LLC during a televised ceremony.
“COVID-19 vaccines must be seen as a global public good, accessible to all, rich and poor alike,” Duterte said, warning that “no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
China’s ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilia, said China had exported vaccines to 27 countries despite its domestic needs, adding that “no winter lasts forever” as China and other countries work together to help each other in times of crisis.
Vaccinations of high-ranking health officials, led by the Minister of Health, were scheduled to begin on Monday at six hospitals in Manipolita Manila.
In addition to the donated Sinovac vaccine, the government has separately ordered 25 million doses from a Chinese company. Health Minister Francisco Duke III has announced that the initial delivery of 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, which was originally scheduled for Monday, will be delayed by a week due to delivery problems.
The initial shipments are a small fraction of the at least 148 million doses the government has been negotiating to secure about 70 million Filipinos vaccinated free of charge by West Asian companies in a massive campaign. The bulk of vaccine deliveries are expected to arrive later this year.
The Philippines reported more than 576,000 infections, including 12,318 deaths, the second highest in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. The quarantine restrictions have pushed Manila’s economy back into one of the worst recessions in the region, causing unemployment and famine.
The Duterte administration has been criticized for lagging behind other countries in Southeast Asia, including much smaller, poorer countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos.
Speaking harshly, Duterte says that rich western countries have set mass quotas for their citizens, leaving poorer countries for the rest. In desperation, the president said last December that he was going to scrap a major security deal with the United States that would allow large numbers of US troops to conduct military exercises in the Philippines if Washington failed to provide at least 20 million Covid19 vaccines.
“No vaccine, no stay here,” Duterte said at the time.
Delivery of Chinese vaccines has been delayed due to the lack of an emergency use permit from the Manila Food and Drug Administration. Sinovak received the permit last Monday. Western pharmaceutical companies wanted the Philippine government to guarantee that they would be held accountable for claims and compensation claims arising from possible adverse effects of the vaccine.
In addition to supply issues, concerns have been raised about the safety of the vaccine, largely due to fears of the dengue vaccine, which prompted the Duterte administration to discontinue the mass vaccine in 2017.
Associated Press columnist Edna Tarigan contributed to this report in ak, akarta, indonesia.