Healthcare workers to receive first 50,000 vaccine doses from China's Sinovac

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 12) — The first ever shipment of coronavirus vaccines that will arrive in the country in February will be given to healthcare workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, two officials confirmed on Tuesday.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the initial batch of 50,000 doses from China's Sinovac will be allotted for medical frontliners based in Metro Manila, the epicenter of the pandemic in the country.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, in a separate briefing, said healthcare workers will not get to choose their preferred brand since the Sinovac delivery is the only one expected to arrive in the country until June. Those apprehensive about its safety and efficacy can opt out of the vaccination program. However, they will lose their spot in the priority list and they would have to be relegated to the bottom of the list.

"Sa Pebrero hanggang Hunyo, wala po talagang pagpipilian. Kaya nga po kung ayaw niyo ng Sinovac, well, hindi kayo pipilitin," he said.

[Translation: You won't have any brand to choose from from February to June. If you don't want to receive Sinovac, you won't be forced.]

Roque drew flak for saying on Monday that Filipinos cannot be "picky" once a vaccine becomes available for rollout in the country. Some Filipinos are apprehensive about receiving the doses from China after Brazilian researchers reported that Sinovac's CoronaVac is just more than 50% effective based on trial data.

President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesperson also said there is an "initial agreement" to complete the vaccination of all healthcare workers nationwide before moving on to the next sectors in the priority list. He added there was a debate in the COVID-19 task force to include those with co-morbidities in the government's vaccine priority list. If granted, those with other medical conditions will be vaccinated after healthcare workers, senior citizens, and before poor families.

Health spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said the DOH hopes to complete the database for those included in the vaccination priority list this month.