First batch of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving Feb 28, but rollout on hold pending experts’ recommendations

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 25) — The first batch of doses of COVID-19 vaccines from China's Sinovac Biotech is set to arrive this Sunday, February 28, Malacañang announced.

In a briefing on Thursday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the 600,000 doses of CoronaVac promised by the vaccine manufacturer, initially scheduled to arrive on February 23, will now be available in three days.

"Tatlong tulog na lang po, parating na ang bakuna, inaasahang itong darating na Linggo, ang Sinovac. Kaya po excited na tayong lahat," he said.

[Translation: In three days, the vaccine will finally arrive. We are expecting by this Sunday, that would be Sinovac. We are all excited.]

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian also made the confirmation in a statement, noting that both countries "have been working round the clock to make it happen."

"It is a fine tradition between China and the Philippines to help each other in trying times. A friend in need is a friend indeed," he said. "The donation of vaccines is another testament to the solidarity as well as profound friendship and partnership between our two peoples and two countries."

Rollout on hold

Although the donated vaccines will arrive in the next few days, the Department of Health and the National Task Force Against COVID-19 clarified that the rollout of Sinovac vaccines will not immediately start on March 1 pending the recommendation of the experts.

“The Department of Health and the National Task Force Against COVID-19 jointly clarify that as of press time, specific details as to the allocation and subsequent rollout of the 600,000 donated SINOVAC doses are still being evaluated pending the official recommendation of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group and its approval by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID),” read the statement.

Roque said some public officials will personally welcome the arrival of Sinovac over the weekend.

"Inaasahan po na at least ang plano natin, sasalubungin po ng mga opisyal ang pagdating ng mga bakuna (We are at least planning that officials will personally welcome the arrival of the vaccines)," he added.

Roque earlier said President Rodrigo Duterte himself will personally welcome the arrival to show his "debt of gratitude," but no further details were provided on the scenario for the welcoming ceremony.

But the DOH and NTF said the details of the planned arrival ceremony are still being finalized in coordination with the Chinese Embassy.

Health workers still top priority

Meanwhile, Malacañang stressed that health workers will remain the top priority for inoculation, regardless of their preferred vaccine brand.

Roque said the 600,000 doses would be enough to cover 250,000 health workers and 50,000 soldiers.

"If they want it, they will still have the priority, if they don't want it, they will still have the priority kung dumating 'yung ibang brands (when the other brands arrive)," Roque said.

The China-based vaccine manufacturer received its emergency use authorization last Monday. Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo clarified in a briefing on Wednesday that despite not recommending Sinovac for health workers and senior citizens due to their low efficacy rate in clinical trials, it is not necessarily being prohibited.

"Hindi po siya bawal, actually kung ang healthcare workers gusto na po niyang tanggapin ito, maaari po iyon," Domingo said.

[Translation: It's not being prohibited, actually if the health workers want it, they can still accept it.]

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. said in his report to the President on Wednesday that it will take the government about two to three days after the arrival of vaccines to proceed with the rollout. He added that more doses will come in the second quarter, but the main volume will be delivered from July to December.

CNN Philippines' Multi-Platform News Writer Vince Ferreras contributed to this report