March 1 (UPI) -- The Philippines began COVID-19 inoculations with vaccines donated by the Chinese government as Beijing steps up "vaccine diplomacy" with Manila.
Philippine General Hospital Director Gerardo Legaspi received the first shot of the Sinovac vaccine on Monday, despite vaccine skepticism in the country, the Nikkei Asian Review reported. The rollout began a day after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte praised China and criticized the United States.
Duterte, 75, who is reportedly planning to visit China to express his gratitude directly to President Xi Jinping, has not received a Sinovac shot in public. The Chinese vaccine rollout comes after Duterte's doctor did not endorse Sinovac, according to the Nikkei.
Health workers were anticipating U.S. Pfizer vaccines but their arrival has been delayed.
Duterte credited China for interceding with the free vaccines amid a health and economic crisis in the Philippines.
"China never asked for anything. China has been giving us everything but never asked anything from us actually," Duterte said Sunday, according to the Philippines' Inquirer.
Duterte also criticized the United States over the weekend, charging Washington with requesting a military base in the Philippines.
The Philippine leader said he opposes the base and that he would not permit the United States to keep nuclear weapons in the Philippines.
"Not because it will antagonize China but it is in the Philippine Constitution, which prohibits the presence of nuclear armaments in the country," Duterte said.
The Philippines has confirmed more than 576,000 COVID-19 infections, the highest among ASEAN member states after Indonesia. About 12,000 people have died due to COVID-19-related complications.
Vaccine delays have hampered inoculation efforts in the country, but vaccine skepticism prevails among the population. Officials could be anxious about moving forward with injections however.
"Let's not wait for the best vaccine. There's no such thing," said Carlito Galvez, vaccine procurement chief, according to Bloomberg on Monday.
The Sinovac vaccine had a 50.4% efficacy rate in Brazilian clinical trials in January. A recent survey in the Philippines by OCTA Research has shown only 13% trust Chinese vaccines.