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MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte defended his government's decision to purchase Chinese-made coronavirus vaccines, saying they are as good as the shots developed by the Americans and the Europeans.
"The Chinese are not lacking in brains," Duterte said in a late-night televised address on Wednesday. "The Chinese are bright. They would not venture (into producing vaccines) if it is not safe, sure and secure."
Duterte made the remarks as questions have been raised over the level of protection Sinovac Biotech's experimental COVID-19 vaccine can provide, after researchers in Brazil released late-stage clinical data showing efficacy that was lower than initially announced.
At least one Philippine senator, Francis Pangilinan, called on the government to cancel the purchase of the Sinovac vaccine, one of seven it is lining up as it plans to begin immunization next month.
Manila has locked in 25 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine, with the first 50,000 expected to arrive in February.
Duterte, who has pursued warmer ties with Beijing, has said previously his preference was for his country to source its COVID-19 vaccines from either China or Russia.
Carlito Galvez, a former general in charge of the vaccination procurement effort, said the government has also firmed up supply deals with Novavax, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Russia's Gamaleya Institute for 137 million doses in total.
These are on top of 40 million doses the Philippines expects to receive through the World Health Organization's COVAX facility in the first quarter, Galvez said.
The Philippines has among the most coronavirus cases in Asia but has trailed regional peers in securing vaccines, with which it hopes this year to inoculate 70 million people, or two-thirds of its population.
An opinion poll showed on Thursday less than a third of Filipinos are willing to get inoculated against the coronavirus as many have voiced concerns over safety. Philippine regulators have yet to approve any COVID-19 vaccines.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Peter Graff)