Duterte defends China-made COVID-19 vaccines; gov't officials last in vaccine priority list

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 14) – President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday defended the national government's preference for China-made COVID-19 vaccines for the country's vaccination program.

The President explained the vaccines produced by Chinese firms such as Sinovac are as good as those made by American and European pharmaceutical companies.

"Hindi nagkulang ang Chinese. Hindi sila nagkulang sa utak. Bright itong mga Instik at they would not venture kung hindi sapat, it is not safe, sure, and secure," Duterte said during the weekly briefing of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

[Translation: The Chinese did not fail (in producing the vaccine). They are not stupid. The Chinese are bright and they would not venture (into vaccine production) if they know those will not be safe, sure, and secure.]

Duterte made the declaration despite the report of the Butantan Institute and the Government of São Paulo in Brazil published on Wednesday, which showed the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine only achieved a 50.38% overall efficacy rate in their clinical study.

While the number meets the threshold required by global regulators for approval, it falls far below the 78% figure announced by Brazilian scientists last week.

Duterte expressed his confidence with vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. on the country's direction towards vaccinating its most vulnerable sectors during this pandemic.

"Ako, kung ano ang piliin ni Secretary Galvez would bind me. Parang ako na rin ang bumili ng bakuna," said Duterte.

[Translation: Whatever Secretary Galvez chooses would bind me. It's like I'm the one who bought the vaccine.]

Malacanang on Tuesday confirmed the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines that will arrive in the country on February will be given to healthcare workers fighting COVID-19. The initial batch of 50,000 doses will come from Sinovac.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque even made a controversial remark, saying Filipinos cannot be "picky" once a vaccine becomes available for rollout in the country.

Last in line

Duterte also said he and other government officials will be the last one to be vaccinated, maintaining that frontline workers and the poor will be prioritized.

"Huli na kami. Kung may maiwan para sa amin, kay Bong [Go], kay Secretary [Delfin] Lorenzana, kung may maiwan, edi para sa ‘tin. Unahin natin sila," said Duterte.

[Translation: We will be the last one. If there will be left for us, for Bong, for Secretary Lorenzana, then we will have them. Let's prioritize them.]

Among those who will be prioritized to get shots are healthcare workers, teachers, social workers, other essential workers outside the health and education sector, overseas workers, and uniformed personnel.

"Wala naman itong diskriminasyon, ang hinabol lang natin dito ay sino yung vulnerable, nutrition-wise, di masyado yung pagkain, walang vitamins, sila yung matamaan if the pandemic will remain as it is," said Duterte. "But anyway, all will have their vaccines, I assure you."

[Translation: There's no discrimination here, we are looking after the vulnerable, nutrition-wise, those who do not eat enough, do not have vitamins, they are the ones who will easily be infected if the pandemic will remain as it is. But anyway, all will have their vaccines, I assure you."

Last December, Malacanang said Duterte is willing to go first in line for a COVID-19 vaccine once approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use.

It can also be recalled that Senator Bong Go dared Galvez and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III to be among the first ones to be inoculated once vaccines are available to prove their safety.