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Sinovac vaccines may arrive this week; gov’t readies rites

THE FIRST batch of Sinovac vaccines donated by China has been prepared for delivery and may arrive in the Philippines as early as this week, according to a top company official.

“We just need to finalize procedures with Customs, then we can fix the date of the flight,” Sinovac Biotech Ltd. General Manager Helen Yang told a televised news briefing hosted by the presidential palace on Wednesday.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte wants to personally welcome the arrival of the 600,000 vaccine shots, his spokesman Herminio “Harry” L. Roque told the briefing. A small ceremony may be held.

“We are Filipinos and we show our debt of gratitude,” he said in Filipino. “In times of need, our friend China was the first to send us the vaccines.”

Mr. Roque said China was the first to help the Philippines during the Marawi siege by sending guns. “It’s not bad to show your appreciation,” he added.

Of the initial batch of vaccines, about 100,000 will be used to immunize soldiers. The rest will be used to inoculate other priority sectors such as medical frontliners.

Mr. Roque said health workers would be allowed to take the Chinese vaccine shots. “Not recommended does not mean it’s prohibited.”

He said the President was initially puzzled why the Sinovac vaccine had not been recommended for health workers.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director General Rolando Enrique D. Domingo earlier said the Chinese shot was not recommended for medical frontliners since its efficacy only reached 50.4% among them based on trials in Turkey.

The efficacy of Sinovac, on the other hand, ranged from 65.3% to 91.2% in patients aged 18 to 59 years based on trials in Indonesia.

Mr. Roque said the President had summoned the FDA official to the Cabinet meeting on Feb. 22 to explain why the Sinovac vaccine had not been recommended for medical frontliners even though it met the 50% efficacy threshold set by the World Health Organization.

Mr. Duterte was initially “perplexed,” Mr. Roque said, adding that he respects the opinion of experts.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 1,557 coronavirus infections on Wednesday, bringing the total to 566,420.

The death toll rose by 22 to 12,129, while recoveries climbed by 392 to 523,321, it said in a bulletin.

There were 30,970 active cases,  88.5% of which were mild, 5.9% did not show symptoms, 2.5% were critical, 2.4% were severe and 0.8% were moderate.

More than 8.1 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Feb. 22, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened about 112.7 million and killed almost 2.5 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 88.3 million people have recovered, it said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Roque said the Executive branch would leave it to the Ombudsman whether to investigate government officials who used unregistered coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines made by another Chinese drug maker, Sinopharm Group Co. Ltd.

Ramon T. Tulfo, Jr., the country’s special envoy to China, admitted having been vaccinated with the Sinopharm drug, which had not been approved for emergency use in the Philippines.

The case would be referred to the agency’s regulatory enforcement for investigation, Mr. Domingo separately told a televised news briefing.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told a separate news briefing they would include the case in their probe of illegal vaccinations. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Vann Marlo M. Villegas

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