MANILA, April 7 (Xinhua) -- The Philippine government's rollout of the China-made vaccine against COVID-19 has raised optimism that the surging caseload stretching the country's health system may finally be tamed and the downward economy would be on the path to recovery.
Merlinda Montevirgen, a 55-year-old technical consultant of the Department of Finance, said she felt relieved after receiving the first dose of the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine on April 1.
"I think the vaccine is safe. I did not experience any side effects at all," Montevirgen, a mother of two, told Xinhua.
She said getting the vaccine meant another layer of protection for her family, including her 80-year-old mother.
"I want to help the country reach herd immunity from the virus, hopefully within this year," she said.
Since the Philippines imposed strict lockdown measures in March 2020, "we go out only when it is necessary and always remind each other to use alcohol, wash our hands, and wear face masks and face shields," she said.
The Philippines has been in varying quarantine levels since the government imposed a lockdown in mid-March last year to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Despite the extended lockdown, the country is still grappling with surging infections. The emergence of more transmissible coronavirus variants poses new challenges to contain the virus.
Since the Philippines reported the first COVID-19 case in the country in January 2020, nearly 820,000 Filipinos have been infected by the virus, and over 14,000 died as of April 7.
The arrival of the CoronaVac vaccine, produced by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech, paved the way for the Philippines to start its vaccination drive on March 1 and scale up the vaccination rollout to frontline healthcare workers.
The country is due to receive more shipment of the CoronaVac vaccine in batches later this year, as it aims to inoculate up to 70 million Filipinos this year to achieve herd immunity.
Philippine General Hospital Director Gerardo Legaspi, 59, a renowned neurosurgeon, was the first Filipino health worker to receive the CoronaVac vaccine.
"The decision to pick Sinovac is based on science, and it took Philippine experts six weeks to carefully study the vaccine," he said in a televised press conference after a dose of CoronaVac was injected into his left arm.
Legaspi urged Filipinos, especially health workers, to get the CoronaVac vaccine.
Dominic Madrid, 28, a frontline worker at a hospital in Albay province, said he jumped at the opportunity to get the CoronaVac vaccine when it was offered to the hospital staff.
"I was reluctant at first to get the CoronaVac due to media reports about its efficacy and safety. But my concerns were erased when most of the Southeast Asian countries started rolling out the vaccine," he said, hoping that the rest of his family will also get vaccinated one day.
The Philippines has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia. According to Carlito Galvez, the chief implementer of the government's fight against COVID-19, the Philippines ranks fourth in vaccination rollout in the region.
Manila City Mayor Francisco Domagoso got his Sinovac jab on Sunday after the government allowed the vaccination of mayors and governors in Metro Manila and areas with high infection rates.
He thanked China for providing the vaccines, saying the China-made vaccine "is an approved, safe product (approved) by our regulatory agency."
Ronald Barreda, 33, is a social worker in a hospital in Albay province, southeast of Manila. He considered the vaccination as the very solution to the pandemic.
"The pandemic is a global concern. It is better to become part of the solution rather than become part of a problem," he said.