Philippines launches virus vaccinations amid supply problems

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Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, right, injects China's Sinovac vaccine on Filipino doctor Eileen Aniceto during the first batch of vaccination at the Lung Center of the Philippines in Quezon city, Philippines on Monday, March 1, 2021. The Philippines launched a vaccination campaign Monday to contain one of Southeast Asia's worst coronavirus outbreaks but faces supply problems and public resistance, which it hopes to ease by inoculating top officials. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA – The Philippine government launched a vaccination campaign on Monday to contain one of Southeast Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks but faces supply problems and public resistance, which it hopes to ease by inoculating top officials.

Cabinet officials, along with health workers and military and police personnel, were among the first to be vaccinated at six hospitals in Metropolitan Manila, after the arrival Sunday of 600,000 doses of vaccine donated by China.

At the state-run Philippine General Hospital in Manila, hospital director Dr. Gerardo Legaspi was inoculated first in a televised event and was followed by Cabinet and Department of Health officials.

“Let’s get vaccinated, let’s save lives every day. We need to move on,” Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said in a speech at the hospital, adding he would get vaccinated in about a week after the health workers.

The Philippines was among the last Southeast Asian countries to receive vaccines due to delivery delays, although it has reported more than 578,300 infections, including 12,322 deaths, the second-highest totals in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. Lockdowns and quarantine restrictions have set back the country's economy in one of the worst recessions in the region and sparked unemployment and hunger.

“Our economy is really down, so the earlier these vaccinations gain speed, the better,” President Rodrigo Duterte told a televised news conference late Sunday after witnessing the delivery of the vaccines at an air base in the capital.

Duterte said he was considering a further easing of quarantine restrictions in the capital and elsewhere once the vaccination campaign gains momentum. With just 600,000 doses available, Monday’s immunizations were billed as symbolic.

Aside from the donated vaccine from China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd., the government has ordered 25 million more doses from the company but no date has been set for the deliveries. Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the arrival of an initial 525,600 doses of vaccine from AstraZeneca that was initially scheduled for Monday would be delayed by a week due to supply problems.