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Duterte 'perplexed' by FDA cautionary recommendations on Sinovac vaccine

Hours after the Philippines' Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it had granted emergency use authorization for CoronaVac, Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine, President Rodrigo Duterte summoned the agency's chief to his Cabinet meeting.

Duterte, according to Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, was "perplexed" by the FDA's cautions about CoronaVac – that it is not recommended for use among health workers.

"Pinapunta po si Secretary [sic] Domingo at naiparating ni Presidente iyong kanyang pagtataka kung bakit may ganitong colatilla ‘no," said Roque on Wednesday, February 24.

(Secretary Eric Domingo was summoned and the President relayed his puzzlement over why there was such a colatilla.)

Roque said that while Duterte "respects" the opinion of vaccine and health experts, the President wondered why they recommended limitations on CoronaVac's use when the World Health Organization itself said a 50% efficacy rating is acceptable.

In Brazil clinical trials which involved health workers and a few individuals over 60 years old, CoronaVac's efficacy rating was found to be 50.4%. But trials in Indonesia and Turkey involving healthy individuals aged 18 to 59 years old yielded efficacy rates of 65.3% to 91.2%. These figures led the FDA experts to recommend the vaccine's use for that age group.

Duterte's next question was: Are other countries using the Sinovac vaccine using it for their health workers? At the time, Domingo supposedly said that he did not know.

Indonesia, Brazil, and Turkey have used CoronaVac shots for their health workers.

But Roque said the FDA has clarified that they are only advising against CoronaVac’s use for health workers, not outrightly prohibiting it. Any doctor or nurse who wants to get the Sinovac vaccine may be given the shots.

“If the health care workers want, they can have it,” said Roque.

Government experts 'may change' their recommendations

Two days after Duterte voiced his concern, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the government's vaccine experts can still change their recommendations on who should be administered with CoronaVac.

"Tonight, the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) is currently meeting, Mr President. Baka magbago pa iyong (There may changes in the) indications for the use of the Sinovac vaccines," he reported to the Chief Executive during his weekly meeting with pandemic task force officials.

The NITAG's discussions were not prompted by Duterte. The day after the granting of Sinovac's EUA was announced, they had already met to hash out more specific guidelines for CoronaVac given the expected arrival of 600,000 doses in the next few days.

It's not clear how much Duterte's concern, relayed to Domingo himself, would influence how the vaccine experts will decide on the final CoronaVac recommendations. – 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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