Philippines launches COVID vaccinations

The Philippines has launched its COVID-19 vaccination program.
The Philippines has launched its COVID-19 vaccination program.

The Philippines has launched a vaccination campaign 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 in six hospitals on Monday in Metropolitan Manila, after President Rodrigo Duterte and other top officials received 600,000 doses on Sunday of COVID-19 vaccine donated by China.

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

The Philippines was among the last Southeast Asian countries to receive its first batch of vaccine due to delivery delays although it has reported more than 576,000 infections, including 12,318 deaths, the second-highest totals in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.

Lockdowns and quarantine restrictions have set back Manila's economy in one of the worst recessions in the region and sparked unemployment and hunger.

Duterte said he was considering to further ease quarantine restrictions in the capital and elsewhere once the vaccination campaign gains momentum.

With just 600,000 doses available for about 300,000 people to get two doses each, Monday's immunisations were billed as symbolic.

Duterte's administration has come under criticism for lagging behind most other Southeast Asian countries in securing the vaccines, but the president has said wealthy Western countries have cornered massive doses for their citizens, leaving poorer nations scrambling for the rest.

Aside from supply problems, there have been concerns over the vaccine's safety, largely due to a dengue vaccine scare that prompted the Duterte administration to stop a massive immunisation drive in 2017.

There have also been concerns even among health workers over the Sinovac vaccine because of its lower efficacy rate compared to others developed in the West and Russia.

Australian Associated Press