MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos not inclined to receive the Chinese-made Sinovac early this year will have to wait until mid-2021 for other brands of coronavirus jabs, Palace said Tuesday.
The Duterte administration's remarks come a day after it told the public to not be picky on vaccine preference, despite a survey showing nearly a majority unwilling to take the jabs as they were concerned on its safety.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque in a regular briefing said the country would be left with no choice but to opt for the Sinovac as alternatives would only arrive after June.
"Sa Pebrero hanggang Hunyo, wala po talagang pagpipilian," he said. "Kaya nga po kung ayaw niyo ng Sinovac, well, 'di kayo pipilitin."
(We really don't have a choice between February to June. So if you won't prefer Sinovac, you won't be forced to take it.)
Government is targeting to inoculate 50 to 70 million Filipinos in 2021, with some 50,000 eyed to be vaccinated by February.
But such remarks from the Palace had not sit well even from lawmakers usually allied with the president.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri called it "unfair" and Sen. Joel Villanueva said the focus should be on building public trust on the jabs "instead of toying around with their announcements at the risk of increasing people's aversion to the vaccine."
In the opposition, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said such pronouncements only add to doubts on the vaccines, while Sen. Leila de Lima sought to stress that Filipinos have the right to jabs that are truly safe.
While other supplies could reach the country by middle of the year, Roque admitted that only residents in major cities are likely to receive Pfizer, which has reported the highest efficacy rate among vaccines.
"Pagdating ng July, marami na pong papasok pero hindi naman lahat 'yan ay puwedeng piliin ng ating mga kababayan dahil ang Pfizer kinakailangan ng -70 [storage]," he said. "Ibig sabihin para lang 'yan sa Maynila, Cebu, Davao na may cold storage facilities."
(Many brands would come in by July but not all could have access to it as Pfizer has to be stored at -70. Meaning to say, it is only for Manila, Cebu and Davao that have cold storage facilities.)
He added that Pfizer could not be used in provinces with no facilities to store it nearly a year since the pandemic hit the country.
Roque's remarks that only Sinovac would be available in the first quarter of 2021 seemed to be conflict with what vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. had told ANC that Pfizer could actually be in the country by February.
Galvez in the television interview said this is through the COVAX facility, an international effort to ensure equitable access to the jabs, where the Philippines is a candidate to receive doses early.
"Baka mauna ang Pfizer because the COVAX facility will be deploying the early rollout of Pfizer. So hihintayin namin 'yan sa February," he said.
(Pfizer could be the first because COVAX facility will be deploying its early rollout. So we will be awaiting in February.)
Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Gamaleya have so far sent their bid for EUAs in the past weeks.
Health officials have sought to allay the seeming public's lack of trust on vaccines, saying regulators are studying it closely before approving applications for emergency use. Recent findings by Pulse Asia had revealed that 47% were unwilling to receive the supposed vaccines.
It followed after years of vaccination efforts in the country strained in large part due to unsubstantiated fears from a botched dengue inoculation program. The health department had said that they would hold a massive information drive to campaign on vaccine safety and efficacy.
The Philippines has so far secured 30 million doses of Covavax and 25 million of Sinovac through deals recently inked by the administration. An agreement for 2.6 million doses of AstraZeneca was the first to be signed in November through a P600 million donation from the private sector.
Local governments have also moved to enter into deals with the British-Swedish drugmaker, with several signing procurement deals and many announcing funding for the effort.