PH working to reach 4,000 participants for WHO’s COVID-19 vaccine trials

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 28 2020 03:22 PM | Updated as of Oct 28 2020 03:43 PM

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MANILA — The Department of Health on Monday said it has decided to expand the number of participants to be recruited for the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials.

“Sa WHO yes po nandun tayo sa direksyon na we will be increasing our number of participants to 4000. Atin lang ginagawan ng final arrangements with WHO,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a virtual briefing.

(For WHO we are already in the direction of increasing our number of participants to 4,000. We’re just making final arrangements with the WHO.)

Earlier this month, the WHO said that while the Philippines already pledged 2,000 to 3,000 participants for the multi-country Solidarity Trial, the international health organization is hoping it could be increased to 4,000.

This is to allow them to reach the target number of participants from across the world, helping raise chances they could establish evidence of the safety and efficacy of the vaccines faster.

Vergeire said that besides the WHO Solidarity Trial, which will involve the testing of several candidate vaccines, the country is still negotiating with pharmaceutical companies.

“Yung tungkol sa Pfizer and Moderna ito ay kasama pa rin sa mga pag-uusap. We are still trying to negotiate and we are still trying to discuss with them. Wala pa ring kasiguraduhan,” she said of the two companies that are among the frontrunners in the COVID-19 vaccine race.

(On Pfizer and Moderna, they are still among those we are talking to. We are still trying to negotiate and we are still trying to discuss with them. There is still no assurance.)

Of the vaccine developers interested in running Phase 3 clinical trials in the Philippines, China’s Sinovac has gone further in the approval process after passing the vaccine expert panel’s review.

Asked if the DOH is prepared for the storage of the candidate vaccines once they arrive in the Philippines, Vergeire said not all vaccines require ultra low temperature freezers. These types of freezers are needed by vaccines using new platforms such as that of Moderna.

Meanwhile, those using current platforms only need a cold chain facility which are already in place in the country for existing immunization programs.

While Vergeire did not mention it, Sinovac’s vaccine uses an inactivated virus, which has traditionally been used for other illnesses.

The health official assured the public that the government is planning the storage of vaccines for different regions.

“We are discussing this with the public sector and private sector,” she said, adding that they are still estimating the budget needed while legislators already committed to provide for the country’s needs in terms of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The DOH also explained that the plans to set up fill-and-finish facilities in the country is a medium-term plan that won’t happen this year or even next year.

Vergeire said though that there are 2 companies who expressed interest in setting up fill-and-finish facilities in the Philippines. 

While it will take years for the country to manufacture vaccines, fill-and-finish facilities would allow the repackaging of the vaccines in vials for distribution.