MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday renewed his trust for COVID-19 vaccines developed by China, even going as far as claiming that all jabs are just the same despite developers reporting different efficacy rates.
The president in his weekly address was seemingly responding to criticism that the administration is preferring the Chinese-made Sinovac despite 50% efficacy and yet the second most expensive.
It also comes after findings that nearly a majority of the public were not willing to be vaccinated due to concerns on the safety of the jabs, which Palace, instead of allaying fears, had responded to in saying there would be no other choice until mid-2021.
"[This] is as good as any other bakuna na naimbento ng mga Amerikano o mga European," Duterte, who in his years has made his contempt for the West known, said. "Hindi nagkulang ang Chinese sa utak. They would not venture [if] it is not safe, sure and secure."
(This vaccine is as good as any other that the Americans or Europeans developed. The Chinese are not lacking in mind.)
Sinovac's efficacy remains unclear to date, but its clinical trials in Brazil showed it was at 50.4%, compared with other jabs such as Pfizer at 95% and AstraZeneca at 70%. It had been the subject of concern at home, even from lawmakers, who had criticized the move to procure 25 million of Sinovac's doses.
"Mas mahusay itong pinili nila," Duterte said. "Mas mahusay, mas mabisa at makuha kaagad natin. Kayong ayaw, bahala kayo."
(The one they picked is better. This is more effective and we would get this early. For those who don't want it, you're on your own.)
The recent weeks have seen local governments moving to secure doses for their constituents, with many announcing funding for the effort. None had so far inked deals with Sinovac, with all opting for AstraZeneca.
Duterte, who had pinned his hopes on vaccines for a return to normalcy, also sought to respond to concerns that the country is late into the global negotiations for the COVID-19 vaccines, saying countries which chipped in to developers are the first to receive the doses.
While such is true, the president made no mention nor recognition that he only allowed making advanced payments — which had been prohibited by law — in late November. The move was a significant change in his tune after rejecting such, saying the West was only out to make a profit for the vaccines.
He also claimed that countries in Asia are still awaiting supplies, despite inoculation in Singapore and even in Indonesia already underway.
"In demand masyado...[to the] highest bidder 'yan," he said. "So 'yung may pera nauuna talagang mabigyan. Pera-pera lang itong buhay na ito eh, maski sabihin mo na COVID."
(The jabs are to much in demand, so it would really go to the highest bidder. So those who have the money would really get it first. Life is all just about money, even if you say it is COVID-19.)
Jakarta's coronavirus infections are the highest in Southeast Asia at nearly 860,000, while Manila's count of over 492,000 puts it at second.
As it seems, the glaring difference is that the former is already sure of millions of doses and vaccination is underway. Its president, Joko Widodo, was even vaccinated publicly, while the latter had so far signed two deals and inoculation seen by February.