The Philippines received on Sunday its first batch of COVID-19 vaccine doses in a shipment donated by China, a day before it was due to roll out a national inoculation campaign.
President Rodrigo Duterte attended a ceremony to mark the arrival of the initial 600,000 doses of Sinovac Biotech’s CoronaVac, which were delivered by a Chinese military aircraft. The Philippines is due to receive another 25 million doses of CoronaVac in batches this year.
The Philippines’ vaccination campaign will begin by targeting health care workers and police and military personnel.
“With this very important shipment, I am confident that more batches of vaccines will be available with great dispatch until every Filipino will be given the chance to be vaccinated at the earliest possible opportunity,” Duterte said in a speech at the Villamor Air Base.
He thanked China for the “gesture of friendship and solidarity – the hallmark of Philippines-China partnership.”
The Philippines has also negotiated vaccine supply deals with other manufacturers, seeking to secure up to 148 million doses so it can inoculate 70 million people, or two thirds of its population.
An initial shipment of 525,600 doses of the vaccine developed by Britain’s AstraZeneca was expected to arrive on Monday.
The Philippines is the last Southeast Asian country to receive initial vaccine supplies, fuelling concerns over recovery prospects for the domestic economy that suffered its worst slump on record last year.
The archipelago, which has the second-highest tally of infections and deaths in the region, has suffered lengthy lockdowns, hitting hard a consumption-driven economy.
Despite the vaccine arrival, however, there is little public support for the inoculation drive. One opinion poll showed that less than a third of Filipinos are willing to get vaccinated as they worry about potential side effects.
Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by William Mallard and Raissa Kasolowsky