MANILA - The Philippines is assessing which sector in the population could be administered with the COVID-19 vaccine of Sinovac, according to the Department of Health Tuesday, after the Food and Drug Administration advised health workers against taking the product due to low efficacy on them.
The interim National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) is reportedly discussing how the country’s prioritization scheme, which lists health workers as the top priority, will be followed while taking into consideration FDA’s recommendation, a DOH staff told ABS-CBN News.
The NITAG is looking into the possibility of administering the Sinovac vaccine, which was granted EUA by the FDA on Monday, to health workers who are not directly tending to COVID-19 patients, said the staff.
FDA Director General Eric Domingo had said Sinovac’s product registered an efficacy rate of 50.4% on health workers exposed to COVID-19, based on a clinical trial done in Brazil.
China is donating 600,000 doses of the said vaccine, of which, 100,000 will go to the Department of National Defense.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire also mentioned today's NITAG meeting in an interview Monday night on ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo, noting that the top two priority sectors of health workers and senior citizens, respectively, in the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program are not recommended to get Sinovac’s product.
She said that even the third priority sector - those with comorbidities - is not immediately prepared to be administered with Sinovac’s vaccine because a master list is not yet completed.
“Nandiyan na po yung essential workers and the uniformed personnel. Magkasama po sila as A4. Sila po yung pang-fourth natin… Sila po ‘yung mga naiwan na pwede nating ikonsidera, aside from the A3, which are those individuals with comorbids, kung ito po ang magiging direksyon ng ating NITAG sa pagrerekomenda sa atin,” Vergeire said.
(Essential workers and the uniformed personnel make up the fourth priority group… They are the ones left for consideration, aside from the A3, which are those individuals with comorbids, if this is the direction or the recommendation of our NITAG.)
Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the World Health Organization Representative in the Philippines, said in a news briefing Tuesday that for high-risk individuals, higher efficacy vaccines would be more appropriate.
“We would leave it to the Philippine FDA and the Philippine government to prioritize what, where will be the most impact of the vaccination program with the Sinovac vaccines, until the WHO EU (emergency use) listing is complete and we have clear evidence of what its efficacies in different age groups where we can have a clear position,” Abeyasinghe said.
“In light of the likelihood of vaccines coming through the COVAX within the next few weeks, we believe that having using vaccines with higher efficacy, to predict the most at risk who will be naturally more exposed to COVID-19 infections, will be a better solution, especially if that process can be accomplished without too much delay," he added.
Abeyasinghe admitted they do not have the information given to the Philippine FDA by Sinovac since the WHO is still evaluating whether the Chinese firm's product can be included in the international body’s emergency use listing. The body is also studying the vaccine candidate from Sinopharm, another Chinese drugmaker.
Only Pfizer and AstraZeneca have been included in the WHO’s emergency use listing, making it easier for member countries to approve the said companies’ COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use. Both have already been granted EUA in the Philippines.
Unlike Sinovac, which has an efficacy rate of 65.3%, based on trials in Indonesia, and up to 91.2% based on trials done in Turkey, Pfizer has an efficacy rate of 95%.
The WHO is a member of the COVAX Facility, which aims for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines especially for low and middle-income countries.
The Philippines was supposed to receive its first batch of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility this month. But it was delayed because of the indemnification deal issue.
Philippine health workers were supposed to receive the Pfizer vaccines.
Abeyasinghe said they “are making every effort to see how we can accelerate that process” of the COVAX Facility, as it remains unclear when the Philippines could receive supplies from it.
“As regards the timeline, that is very difficult to commit. Our latest understanding is that process might be completed within the month of March,” he said.
The Philippines has logged 563,456 confirmed COVID-19 cases, as of Monday, including 28,488 who are still battling the disease. The death toll stood at 12,094, and total recoveries are at 522,874.