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In Canada, Filipino health worker among first to get historic COVID-19 vaccine

A Filipino long-term care worker was among the first in Canada to receive the historic COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, December 15, marking the start of the country's inoculation campaign

Anita Quidangen, a personal support worker at the Rekai Centre nursing home in Ontario, Toronto, rolled up her sleeve to become one of 5 frontline health workers to get a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot – the world's first approved and fully-tested vaccine. 

Filipino-Canadian news site Omni Filipino reported that Quidangen has been working as a personal support worker at the Rekai Centre at Sherbourne Place since it opened in 1988.

Applause filled the room at the vaccination site in the University Health Network as Quidangen smiled behind her mask after receiving her first dose of the vaccine. 

"It's an honor, thank you very much," Quidangen told the Toronto Star after receiving the shot. "I'll continue to do my job as a PSW (personal support worker)."

Canadian news station CP24 reported Quidangen also worked throughout the pandemic, often taking on double shifts.

"It was amazing to watch Anita Quidangen…receive the vaccine. Thank you Anita for rolling up your sleeves to protect our province," tweeted Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario. 

Along with Quidangen, frontline health workers Cecile Lasco and Derek Thompson (personal support workers), as well as Lucky Aguila and Colette Cameron (registered nurses) were vaccinated. 

Canada is among the first countries to mount a mass immunization campaign against COVID-19. The rollout of the program in the country takes place alongside similar campaigns in the United States, United Kingdom, and Bahrain. 

Just last week on December 8, Filipino nurse May Parsons delivered the first Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine shot to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan at a local hospital in Coventry, UK. 

Like in the UK, many Filipinos form part of Canada's health system and serve as frontliners during the pandemic. A 2017 study from the Canadian Health Institute indicated that as of 2016, nurses from the Philippines made up 34.4% of the 8.1% of international nurses in the country.  

"Today, we really turned the corner," said Kevin Smith, president of the University Health Network in Toronto. 

Ontario, Canada's most populous province and one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, counted 1,940 new cases and 23 deaths on Monday, December 14. 

Canada is set to receive up to 249,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of the month, while authorities expect to receive a total of 6 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines – the latter currently awaiting approval – in the first quarter of 2021. This would make it possible to vaccinate 3 million people with two doses. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised that most Canadians should be vaccinated by September 2021. A study by the People's Vaccine Alliance – which includes Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Global Justice – found that the country ordered enough vaccines to protect each Canadian 5 times.  – with reports from Agency France-Presse/Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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