Delayed vaccines? It's Duterte who keeps AstraZeneca doses waiting

President Rodrigo Duterte was late by two hours for a ceremony in which he was to welcome the country's first shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines from the World Health Organization (WHO) and COVAX Facility.

Duterte's official schedule from Malacañang showed that he was supposed to be at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City for the ceremony at 7:30 pm Thursday, March 4. The vaccine shipment arrived around 7:20 pm at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3.

But the President arrived two hours later, at around 9:30 pm.

In contrast, Duterte was on time to welcome the 600,000 Sinovac vaccine doses donated by China last Sunday, February 28.

Among the diplomats who also had to wait for Duterte were new European Union (EU) Ambassador Luc Veron and British Ambassador Daniel Pruce, who Malacañang had credited for ensuring the delivery of the AstraZeneca shots. Also present was WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr Rabindra Abeyasinghe.

Malacañang staff told reporters that Duterte was held up by a meeting at the Palace. It is not yet clear what the meeting was about.

He had gone to the Palace from two events in Bulacan and Valenzuela City which ended at around 5:30 pm.

'May God bless you'

At the welcome ceremony, Duterte was effusive in his thanks to the Western countries that donated the AstraZeneca shots.

"I don't know how to express my gratitude to the donor countries. That you remembered the poor nations is in fact already a plus for humanity," he said.

"In behalf of the Republic of the Philippines, and of the people and all, I'd like to say again that we felt the gratitude in our hearts and may God bless you for your benevolence," continued the Philippine leader.

According to the national anti-COVID-19 task force, the AstraZeneca shipment was donated by Germany, the European Union, Norway, France, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Greece, and Australia.

Duterte had controversially ranted about the European Union in the early years of his administration, at one point giving the middle finger to European Parliament lawmakers and even threatening to expel EU diplomats after mistakenly attributing certain statements to them.

In 2018, the Philippines rejected P380 million in European Union aid. In 2017, the developing country refused to accept more EU grants, pegged at around 250 million euros or P13.85 billion.

In a speech earlier on Thursday, Duterte admitted he prefers the vaccine developed by China's Sinopharm because he doesn't like products of Western countries.

"Ang akin is Sinopharm, China. Hindi masyado ako maano diyan sa produkto ng puti," he said at the inauguration of a school building in Valenzuela City.

(My preference is Sinopharm, China. I'm not into products by white people.)

"Puti" is Filipino for "white," referring to Caucasians.

The AstraZeneca vaccines are part of the 5.6 million vaccine doses the Philippines will get from COVAX, led by WHO, in the first quarter of 2021.

The COVAX Facility is an initiative that allows developing nations to access sought-after vaccines amid a global race for shots dominated by wealthy countries. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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