By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
CHINA will donate 400,000 more doses of CoronaVac shots made by Sinovac Biotech Ltd., according to President Rodrigo R. Duterte, in a boost to the Philippine drive to vaccinate more of its most vulnerable population.
“You have my assurance that the government will be exerting all efforts to roll out the nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program to enable us to reopen our schools and slowly resume our face-to-face learning,” the President said in a speech during inauguration rites for public education facilities in Valenzuela City on Thursday.
He said he will lift coronavirus restrictions once vaccines become widely available. Mr. Duterte earlier said the Philippines could return to normalcy by 2023.
The Philippines has vaccinated more than 9,000 Filipinos, mostly medical frontliners against the coronavirus since its inoculation drive started on March 1, according to the presidential palace.
The patients were injected with CoronaVac, presidential spokesman Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing on Thursday.
The government took delivery of 600,000 doses of the vaccine donated by China on Sunday.
Mr. Roque said Mr. Duterte could choose his own vaccine brand because he is the country’s top leader and a senior citizen.
The Department of Health (DoH) reported 2,452 coronavirus infections on Thursday, bringing the total to 584,667. The death toll rose by 15 to 12,404, while recoveries increased by 266 to 535,037, it said in a bulletin.
There were 37,226 active cases, 90.1% of which were mild, 4.9% did not show symptoms, 2.1% were critical, 2.1% were severe and 0.81% were moderate.
The DoH said eight duplicates had been removed from the tally, while five recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Four laboratories failed to submit data on March 3.
About 8.4 million Filipinos have been tested for the COVID-19 virus as of March 2, according to DoH’s tracker website.
The coronavirus has sickened more than 115.8 million and killed about 2.6 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including WHO data. About 91.5 million people have recovered, it said.
In a related development, a DoH technical advisory group might recommend the use of AstraZeneca shots for health workers aged 65 and above, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles told a separate televised news briefing on Thursday.
South Africa has stopped the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a scientific study showed that it was less effective against the coronavirus strain that came from there.
Meanwhile, Mr. Nograles said the government might place the entire country under the most relaxed level of community quarantine in the next few months as the Philippines takes delivery of more vaccines next quarter.
Vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. earlier said the country would take delivery of a million coronavirus vaccines from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. this month.
The first batch of coronavirus vaccines developed by Pfizer would arrive next quarter, he said.
The palace earlier said only health workers would be exempted from the vaccination rule that Filipinos cannot choose what vaccine brand they will get.
Mr. Duterte has said he would wait for the coronavirus vaccine made by another Chinese firm, Sinopharm Biotech Group Ltd. because CoronaVac is not recommended for senior citizens.
The local Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve Sinopharm’s application for emergency use.
Earlier in the day, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said thousands of people in the capital region got injected with CoronaVac.
Of the 600,000 vials, about 189,600 have been delivered to various vaccination centers nationwide, he told a separate news briefing. About 12,000 vials were delivered to Davao City and 7,200 to Cebu City from the cold storage facilities in the capital region, he added.
Vaccines would be delivered to the rest of the country based on a masterlist of targets in 17 regions, Mr. Nograles said.
Mr. Roque earlier said the presidential legal team was studying whether the President as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, is covered by the compassionate use authorization for Sinopharm.
Presidential security guards are under investigation for taking the shots last year without regulatory approval. — with Vann Marlo M. Villegas