Frontliners first to receive COVID-19 vaccines in the Philippines

Almost a year after the fight against COVID-19 began in the Philippines, the end of the pandemic in the country is finally in sight. 

After the arrival of 600,000 doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccines on 28th February, our official COVID-19 vaccine rollout kickstarted on 1st March, with medical and military frontliners the first to receive their CoronaVac shots.

The Philippine General Hospital’s director was the first person to receive a vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines Philippines - Dr. Gerardo “Gap” Legaspi getting his vaccine
Image adapted from: Department of Health (Philippines)

Dr. Gerardo “Gap” Legaspi, Director of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and a renowned neurosurgeon, is known for introducing craniotomy surgery – a type of brain surgery performed on a patient who is awake – to our country. He’s also made history as the first official recipient of a COVID-19 vaccine in the Philippines.

Nurse Charleuck Santos administered Dr. Legaspi’s first shot at the PGH’s vaccination center.

COVID-19 vaccines Philippines - Dr. Gerardo “Gap” Legaspi
Image adapted from: Department of Health (Philippines)

Legaspi couldn’t help but feel emotional during his vaccination, as he remembered his friends and colleagues who had died because of the virus.

Naiiyak ako kasi naalala ko ang mga kaibigan ko at kasama sa trabaho na namatay dahil sa COVID-19 (I’m crying because I’m remembering my friends and colleagues who died because of COVID-19),” Legaspi said. 

Legaspi encouraged Filipinos to get vaccinated

Given the public’s doubts about getting COVID-19 vaccines, Legaspi encouraged Filipinos to only look at scientific facts and set aside their biases.

“Sinabi ko po sa townhall, alisin natin ang ating view sa vaccine [at] ihiwalay sa politika, hiwalay sa partido, hiwalay sa administrasyon, hiwalay sa paniniwala, kundi batay sa siyensya na malinaw. Hindi [man] po siya gano’n kaganda sa pananaw ng karamihan, pero kapag sinuri niyo ng mas malalim maiintindihan ninyo kung bakit ako ang unang nag-volunteer magpabakuna.”

(I said at the townhall, let’s set aside our views about the vaccines from politics, parties, administrations, beliefs, and focus on science that’s clear. [The vaccine] may not be attractive to many, but if you look deeper, you’ll understand why I volunteered to be the first person to receive the vaccine.)

PGH’s Dr. Edsel Salvaña was the second to receive a jab

COVID-19 vaccines Philippines - Dr. Edsel Salvaña
Image adapted from: Department of Health (Philippines)

PGH’s Dr. Edsel Salvaña, Director of UP-National Institutes of Health Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology and an infectious disease expert, was the second person to receive a vaccine and was elated when he received his shot.

I’m alive! Arm hurts but that’s just my immune cells getting ready to churn out anti-COVID antibodies. #2 to get vaccinated in the Philippines! Thank you science and to everyone who worked so hard to make this happen,” Salvaña tweeted excitedly.

Like Legaspi, he also urged Filipinos to get vaccinated. “Pero kung takot po kayong mamatay, kunin niyo na po ito. Sabi nga sa Amerika and anywhere else in the world: the best vaccine is the vaccine in your arm. So, I encourage everyone to get the vaccine here now,” Salvaña said during his speech at the PGH. 

(But if you’re scared to die, get [this vaccine] already. As what was said in America and anywhere else in the world: the best vaccine is the vaccine is the vaccine in your arm. So, I encourage everyone to get the vaccine here now.)

COVID-19 vaccines Philippines - Philippine General HospitalDoctor Gerardo Legaspi (left) and Doctor Edsel Salvaña (3rd from left) with their vaccinated colleagues
Image adapted from:
Department of Health (Philippines)

Aside from Dr. Legaspi and Dr. Salvaña, other medical frontliners such as PGH healthcare workers and Food and Drug Administration Director General Eric Domingo also received their vaccines on 1st March.

Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III gave a shot to military frontliners

COVID-19 vaccines Philippines - Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III gave a shot to military frontliners at Victoriano Luna Medical Center
Director Colonel Fatima Claire Navarro receiving her vaccine shot from DOH Secretary Duque
Image credit: DOH-NCRPO HPMRU 

Director Colonel Fatima Claire Navarro, Commanding Officer of the Victoriano Luna Medical Center or the Armed Forces of the Philippines Medical Center, is the official first military frontliner to receive a vaccine. Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Duque administered her first dose of CoronaVac at the hospital.

“Wala akong naramdaman na kakaiba after the vaccination, no feeling of heaviness, walang anything na masakit, and even ‘yung pag-inject ng bakuna walang unusual,” Navarro said after getting vaccinated. 

(I felt nothing strange after the vaccination, no feeling of heaviness, nothing painful, and even during the injection of the vaccine, there was nothing unusual.)

COVID-19 vaccines Philippines - Victoriano Luna Medical Center
Image credit: Department of National Defense – Philippines 

Doctor Lieutenant Colonel Cynthia Liao and Doctor Major Joel Lorenzo Rollo were also vaccinated along with Director Colonel Navarro at the Victoria Luna Medical Center on 1st March.

Sinovac’s CoronaVac works by helping us produce antibodies against COVID-19

COVID-19 vaccines Philippines - Sinovac's CoronaVac
Image credit: Sinovac Biotech Ltd.

CoronaVac works by producing antibodies that prevent COVID-19. Administered through two doses, the vaccine can train the body to produce antibodies due to its inactivated virus that is fought off by our immune cells.

Inactivated viruses have been used for decades to produce vaccines for diseases such as poliomyelitis or polio and hepatitis A.

The vaccine has a lower efficacy rate compared to other vaccines

Although the efficacy rate of the vaccine was reported to be 50.38%, with a 78% efficacy rate against mild cases of the coronavirus in a Brazilian trial, as reported by Reuters, Duque assured the public that this should not be a worry.

According to DOH Secretary Duque citing Brazil’s Butantan Institute in Sao Paolo, this is because the vaccine is supposedly 100% effective in preventing severe and moderate COVID-19 cases.

The efficacy rate of a vaccine measures the percentage of reduction of disease cases in a group of people given a vaccine in a clinical trial, as compared to a placebo group.

COVID-19 vaccination begins in the Philippines

With the beginning of the COVID-19 vaccination program in the country, we can now be more optimistic that the end of the ravaging pandemic is indeed about to come. 

As medical and military frontliners receive their vaccine shots, we hope that we can soon recover from the pandemic’s social and economic impact, and return to our regular way of life.

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Cover image adapted from: Department of Health (Philippines), DOH-NCRPO HPMRU

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