A Philippine hospital official urged Filipinos to get the vaccine and said the decision to pick Sinovac is based on science.
MANILA, March 1 (Xinhua) -- The Philippines launched its COVID-19 vaccination drive on Monday, less than a day after the arrival of a batch of the Sinovac vaccine CoronaVac donated by China.
Philippine General Hospital (PGH) Director Gerardo Legaspi, a renowned neurosurgeon, was the first Filipino to receive the Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine.
Legaspi urged Filipinos, especially health workers, to get the Sinovac vaccine, saying it is safe.
"The decision to pick Sinovac is based on science, and it took Philippine experts six weeks to carefully study the vaccine," he told a televised press conference. Legaspi said he would recommend CoronaVac to those with allergies.
Simultaneous vaccination took place in different hospitals in Metro Manila shortly after Legaspi got the shot.
"Today is a historic day here at the PGH and several other hospitals in Metro Manila because it is the start of new hope. After a year of darkness brought about by the COVID-19, finally, there is light," Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.
The Philippines' Department of Health said the Sinovac vaccines "will also be rolled out in other parts of the country in the coming days."
Among the officials who volunteered were testing czar Vince Dizon, Food and Drug Administration Director General Enrique Domingo, and Carlito Galvez, the officer in charge of vaccine procurement.
"We were near tears when the (Chinese) vaccines arrived yesterday. At last, the doses of hope that we have been waiting have arrived," Galvez said at the kick-off ceremony.
The government aims to inoculate up to 70 million Filipinos this year to achieve herd immunity, starting with health care workers, the elderly, and the poor communities. The Philippines has an about 110-million population.
The Philippines is negotiating to buy over 160 million vaccine doses from different pharmaceutical firms this year, including Sinovac.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte received the COVID-19 vaccines from Sinovac Biotech Ltd that arrived in the Philippines on Sunday.
"The efficacy is good," he said, urging Filipinos to get the Sinovac vaccine.
China's Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian handed over the vaccines to the Philippine government.
Duterte viewed the crates containing the vaccines, inspected an actual single-dose vaccine vial during the ceremonial turnover, and thanked the Chinese government.
"China has been giving us everything but never asked anything from us actually," Duterte told reporters on Sunday.
He said China's donations would greatly help the Philippine economy recover once the vaccine rollout begins.
"Slowly, those persons who got the vaccines can go to work again, and businesses will open. It will greatly help and thereby promote healthy trade and commerce with China," Duterte said.
"China has a good spirit. The people are kind, and the government has great respect and love for mankind," Duterte added.
The vaccines' delivery allows the Philippines to start mass vaccinations on Monday, marking a new phase in the country's fight against the COVID-19 that has infected 576,352 people and killed 12,318 others.