State hospital PGH's director first to receive COVID-19 vaccine in PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 1) — The much-awaited COVID-19 vaccination drive in the Philippines kicked off Monday in six government facilities, with the director of a state hospital receiving the very first of legal doses administered.

Philippine General Hospital Director Dr. Gerardo "Gap" Legaspi received Sinovac's CoronaVac, the first batch of vaccines that arrived in the country through a donation from China, from nurse Chareluck Santos.

"Hindi ko ma-describe ang [I can't describe the] feeling. It’s probably release from all the fears... The honor is there," Legaspi said. 

The vaccination of the decorated neurosurgeon and known pioneer of awake craniotomy surgery in the Philippines drew cheers and applause from other hospital staff and media personnel who were taking part in the historic event.

"Kayong dalawa ay nasa kasaysayan na ng COVID-19," the emcee of the program at PGH said of Legaspi and Santos.

[Translation: You two will now be in the history of COVID-19.]

Santos also had herself vaccinated with CoronaVac, saying she did her research first on the brand.

“I decided na magpabakuna na, because I believe that the best vaccine is kung ano na yung available ngayon,” she told CNN Philippines’ News Night.

[Translation: I decided to have myself vaccinated, because I believe that the best vaccine is what is already available now.]

Among those vaccinated at the PGH were FDA Director General Eric Domingo, MMDA Chief Benhur Abalos, Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr., and Dr. Edsel Salvana of the DOH Technical Advisory Group. Testing czar Vince Dizon was the second to receive the vaccine at TALA Hospital after its Director Fritz Famaran was inoculated.

But prior to the shots received by Legaspi and the others, several government officials and members of the Presidential Security Group jumped the priority line and used smuggled vaccines made by China state-owned Sinopharm as early as last year.

The PGH said 124 medical staff were vaccinated on the first day of the ceremonial inoculation program. There are about 2,000 medical frontliners at the PGH. The number will go up to 3,000 if other frontliners are included, such as hospital janitors and utility staff. The latest survey in the hospital showed only 8% or 240 personnel were willing to take Sinovac, with others preferring to wait for other vaccine brands to arrive.

Galvez urged healthcare workers and the rest of the public to get vaccinated for the country to finally be able to move to the new normal of living amid the pandemic.

"Ito po ay moral obligation ng lahat ng tao. Dapat lahat tayo ay magpabakuna," he said.

[Translation: It is our moral obligation. Let us all get vaccinated.]

The Food and Drug Administration, upon granting of Emergency Use Authorization, cautioned against using CoronaVac on healthcare workers due to its lower efficacy rate of 50.4% when tested in Brazil on workers directly dealing with COVID-19 patients.

However, the government's health experts overturned this just days before the national vaccination rollout. The National Immunization Technical Advisory Group and the DOH's Technical Advisory Group found that CoronaVac "will be beneficial for the health care workers." Health spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said it is 50.4% effective in preventing mild symptoms, but 100% effective against moderate and severe symptoms. This means it can effectively reduce diseases and deaths – the main goal for prioritizing medical frontliners in the vaccination program, Vergeire added.

The next batch of vaccination remains uncertain since only 600,000 doses of Sinovac – good for 300,000 people – have arrived in the country.